Anne Sauser-Hall

For the past ten years Anne Sauser-Hall has been investigating how the interweaving of reality and fiction in childhood myths, fairy tales, and stories affects the formation of collective beliefs. She does this by subtly altering utilitarian objects usually found in a domestic space (such as kitchen shelves, mattresses, floor-polishing disks) and rendering them nonfunctional.

An earlier piece consisted of low hanging shelves filled with cushions embroidered with the names of the domestic servants, all women, who had recounted many of the stories included in Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s famous compilation. The ensemble created the comforting atmosphere of a kitchen (“a woman’s place”), yet the shelves, which were meant to look like benches, were completely dysfunctional: a weak support that figures the tenuousness of the Grimm’s authorship.

In her latest exhibition, Sauser-Hall takes on the social construction of gender, particularly contemporary notions of masculinity. Reacting to American-poet-turned-guru Robert Bly and his use of the fairy tale “Iron John” as the impetus for his Wild Men’s Movement, this new work focuses on the continuously evolving public perception of sexual “norms.” In the first room of the storefront gallery, a narrow piece of pleated Royal Stewart plaid fabric had been stretched across the wall and between two pieces of glass. Called Sans titre (Arthur), [Untitled (Arthur), 1992], the work resembles a kilt but one that has been rendered unwearable, ironically pointing out the new masculinists’ anguished search to distance themselves from the “feminine.” Its title also reminds one that the new-found relevance of heroic tales such as King Arthur and his coterie of knights, is balm to the contemporary male’s damaged ego.

A wooden structure resembling four connected dog houses (“Dog is a man’s best friend”) was placed in the middle of the floor of the same room and entitled Sans titre, 1993 (Wild Men’s Movement). This construction resembled the primal-screaming booths used by Bly’s initiates to transform them from brow-beaten weaklings into virile men; hut, in fact, the openings were too small to enter or exit: an adjustment suggesting the futility of such activities.

In another wall piece, Sauser-Hall placed, on a small ledge, an ice-skate tote-bag covered in the same plaid fabric as Sans titre (Arthur) and titled Lac gelé (Frozen lake, 1992). The carrying straps had been shortened and the zipper opening blocked, making it impossible both to use the case and to determine what type of skates arc inside. Because of the plaid pattern’s contemporary associations, one first imagines it to be a woman’s case, but like the object inside Marcel Duchamp’s ball of twine one will never know. The viewer was left to reflect on her/his own gender stereotypes.

As a coda to the exhibition, Sauser-Hall placed a single piece in the gallery’s smaller room, titled Sans titre (Justine), 1993—a shelf that looks like a woman’s dressing table under which two over-stuffed stools were hidden. Ironically reminding women that their “proper” place is in the boudoir and recalling the desirability of the Marquis de Sade’s virtuous victim, Sauser-Hall placed the “new” wild-man masculinity in its age-old context.

Elizabeth Janus