Tiny fragments of fractured machines, antique medical tools, pill bottles, bleached animal bones. These are some of the ingredients composing the bizarre boxlike found-object sculptures of Chris Caufield, 38. Looking like something outta the Nine Inch Nails music vid "Closer," these kooky contraptions (frequently lighted with neon tubes) evoke an arcane, turn-of-the-20th-century aesthetic, serving as metaphors for Caufield's love of abandoned objects and buildings, as well as the chronic osteopathic condition he's suffered since birth. The Chicago native's wacko works, which have shown previously at the Paper Heart, are influenced by such surrealist assemblage legends as Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg, and are built inside his small yet meticulously decorated studio, located near 15th Avenue and Pierce Street.
When I was born, my hip was dislocated by the birthing process and became susceptible to osteomyelitis [a staph infection of the bone]. It ate away the femoral head and spread to my knees, the small of my back, and my ankles, and did a lot of damage. I was given tons of antibiotics, and it finally killed the infection, but not before it caused the bones in my legs to bow, and I had to be in traction. For all of junior high and much of high school, I was in hospitals in various states of treatment, getting massive surgeries to correct the damage.
I occasionally need canes to get around, so I've got dozens of them metal ones, wooden ones, sword canes, canes that open into chairs. I lose my canes a lot; leave them at gas stations or somewhere. It speaks to my absentmindedness, I guess.
Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt Street
Works on display starting Friday, September 15.
All my life I've taken things apart and built them into something else. Old typewriters or cameras yield little mechanical parts that I can construct things out of. I also use little odds and ends, found bottles, medical tools, and things like that. When I was little, I rode my tricycle around finding junk to tie to the back of it and [it] became sort of a moving piece of sculpture.
Some of my artistic sensibilities seem to be born out of medicine in general because of my history. My attraction to using animal bones speaks to my orthopedic medical history, and also [using] old medicine and chemistry bottles. I like old bottles in general, but they aren't exclusively medical.
I love old broken-down buildings and infrastructure, and seek them out as a source for my work. Walking through, even if I don't find any junk, I'll take pictures or soak in the place. They're marginal places, abandoned by man, and are sort of like skeletons left behind as reminders of what once was, just like an animal dies and leaves remains.
The machinery and objects I pick are old and antiquated, sort of no longer useful items of technology. Nostalgia is one of the main feelings you get from my work. It's like shrines to the past, very altar-like.
Remains To Be Seen
I've applied for grants and been heavily questioned about how I get my animal remains. It's assumed I killed small furry things, but all the bones are from animals I've found that are already dead, and I certainly wouldn't hunt or kill anything.
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I have a roadkill kit in my car, which has gloves, bags, and a shovel. I came across a cat downtown, and while I was scooping it up, someone came by and started questioning me about what I was doing. I was mortified, but told sort of a white lie about how it's my cat and I'm gonna bury it.
I'm fascinated by books on fantasy, the occult, and unexplained phenomena. When I title a piece, I'll be struck by something I've read and apply it. Like there's a piece I did called Two Black Bottles, the title of an H.P. Lovecraft story.
I got turned on to Nick Cave in high school. He's got this harsh industrial thing that lends itself to the places I am drawn to and the things I like.
I'm really calculated about everything in my studio, how it looks, how it's arranged. It becomes a sculpture in itself, a work in progress I work on as much as I do my actual pieces. That way it becomes a living entity feeding my creative process.