It’s in the substance

UNR sculpture students

Chris Bauder creates oversized fortune cookies, which he admits are blatantly sexual.

Chris Bauder creates oversized fortune cookies, which he admits are blatantly sexual.

Photo By David Robert

Christopher Bauder leans, head cocked to one side, arm up to the elbow in white satin and soft pink foam rubber. His arms are hidden in the innards of the fortune cookie in front of him, but you can tell by his concentration that his fingers are busy working fabric in and around the curves of the mattress pad cookie.

Bauder is a bachelor of fine arts student at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s one of many students using unusual materials to create art. Bauder pulls most of his imagery from pop culture and most of his subject matter from the drug and alcohol subculture of college life, as well as his experiences with the women he meets in bars and clubs.

“As college students we use all these stimulants,” Bauder says. “We inhale caffeine like it’s going out of style to get us up, smoke anything that can be smoked to bring us back down, snort to get back up again, and drink to get down and up all at once.”

Examining and celebrating substances—from things as harmless as energy drinks to overblown candy lands of cocaine—Bauder quietly questions the effects of such stimulants. His work explores the idea of the sexual predator and his position as a young, attractive, white male. Bauder’s most recent body of work sexualizes oversized fortune cookies, using various materials including ceramic and bubble wrap.

"[The fortune cookie] is absolutely sexual,” he says. “Its form is just … it’s organic, but it also has this heightened sexual energy. Just look at the way it folds.”

Bauder exaggerates what he sees as the blatant sexuality of the cookies by over-sizing them—"If I’m not exciting you, then I’m not doing my job. When you get off, I get off.”

Sue Kay Lee glues hand-rolled cigarettes to a white wall. As she works, a lit cigarette hangs from her mouth, ash growing steadily, finally falling to the toes of her bare feet. She holds a level in one hand and a tube of silicone in the other. She keeps gluing until the cigarettes create a dashed line, like the empty letter spaces in hangman, or in a child’s primer. Earlier, Lee embroidered each cigarette with text in lavender thread.

“The cigarettes don’t embody obsession and sexual release, but they have a quiet presence,” Lee says. “They are objects of penetration, objects of exchange into and from one’s body.”

Lee is dual majoring in art and writing. Her work explores sexuality and androgyny, often referencing interactions between bed partners. Lee combines hardware-store and craft-store materials with tools used in sexual play. Nails, screws, glass, rubber tubing, staples, needles, thread, vinyl, Saran wrap, lubricant, latex, dental dams, surgical gloves. Using these materials and minimal language, she creates formal, quiet displays that play with ideas of piercing, wetness and dominance.

Seth Bellister gets most of his art supplies at the butcher counter in the supermarket. His work is often stunningly lovely, but his material itself is not quickly thought of as beautiful. Bellister makes art out of pig fat. He covers fat with gold leaf, then paints with it; the fat is in pieces and chunks; it’s smeared onto surfaces to provide lush varnishes.

Bellister will graduate in May and is planning to apply to medical school. He started creating with fat, in part, because it seemed appropriate after spending so much time removing fat in order to prepare cadavers for autopsy as a medical student.

“I stand over these bodies every day,” Bellister says. “At times it seems like that is the only way I interact with other humans.”

“The materials I work with are pieces of something,” Lee says. “The cigarettes, the Saran wrap and the lubricant speak to sex and obsession, but they function between the sexes, exclusionary some of the time, inclusive others.”

For Lee, Bauder and Bellister, the materials they use are not a question, but an inevitable solution.