A Note on Christopher Caufield

Last weekend saw the annual Grand Avenue festival here in Phoenix – an opportunity for the local community to stroll between small art venues and talk first-hand to artists about the work they produce, and perhaps even purchase something. Jaime and I went last year, at which time I became acquainted with the work of Christopher Caufield.

Christopher’s work is a taxonomy all in itself, so it naturally defies easy definition. Put simply, he works with found materials that come from almost complete opposite ends of the natural / scientific spectrum. His works are machines of spectacle, made of materials brutal and gentle, natural and electric, all in strange, wonderful harmony.

Caufield collects the bones of dead animals he finds in locations where he is likely to find them. His ethical stance and working method here are very clear: he does not kill animals. In fact, he salvages their discarded bodies from roadsides and the desert, favouring their immortality in his contraptions.

But bones are only one small part of these weird but beautiful objects. The materials are diverse: bones, wooden boxes, neon tubes, negative films, switches – and all wired together into working contraptions, components that have no business feeding into each other but nonetheless striking Frankensteinian creations. Perhaps what helps here is the high quality to which these objects are made, that demonstrates a care to both craft and material decision-making. They may be patchworks of machine and organism, but they are put together in a deliberate, controlled manner that suggests an inherent use value. In my brief discussions with him, I have a feeling that Caufield would be uncomfortable with me considering fetishism as a grounds for appreciating this work. Maybe it’s the neon. But there is something titillating about the verging-on-functionality of the pieces (they often switch on and off, for example) and the convergence of forms that, though unconventional, make an odd steampunk-like sense.

Battered carcasses come in, and leave immaculate bone ingredients. It’s an oddly respectful approach, and much gentler than it sounds. You probably ought to check it out for yourself.

Give him a ring at 480-338-0034

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