Chris Sauter. Photo by Page Graham.
Chris Sauter. Photo by Page Graham.

Chris Sauter’s ambitious, multi-venue conceptual exploration examining the juxtapositions of religion and science is happening right now in San Antonio. It is a Pilgrimage – Apophenia Guide Our Way.

Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, locale of the “Faith & Reason” segment of the pilgrimage, hosted the artist on Jan. 9 at the latest edition of the Black Box Lunch Series – an opportunity for exhibiting artists to come in and share their point of view, inspiration, and a sammie with 20 or so lucky art aficionados.

Chris Sauter (top, center) talks about his work at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum's Black Box Lunch series. Photo by Page Graham.
Chris Sauter (top, center) talks about his work at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s Black Box Lunch series. Photo by Page Graham.

We first stumbled upon the apparition of Saint Apophenia at Luminaria 2013. She was created by the projection of 11 unrelated images on to the side of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center – about three stories worth.

It consisted of disparate images, like a dog’s tongue, a Zorro mask, fake eyelashes, a corporate logo, and so on, using a number of overhead projectors. And yes, as we gazed upon the figure of Apophenia, she materialized in the haze of the festival of light, and she was real.

Chris recounts his experience, dressed in the garb of a priest, “These parts became an image so successfully that it took people a while to figure it out.”

Sauter saw Luminaria as a way to start working out this concept, “It was an opportunity to materialize and introduce her. Some took her very seriously — which was okay. And some laughed — which was okay.”

People have interacted with the idea of Apophenia very organically, it seems. Questioning her existence, wanting to know more about her. She has a website, and a Facebook page. And a prayer card.

St. Apophenia prayer cards at Fl!ght Gallery. Photo by Page Graham.
St. Apophenia prayer cards at Fl!ght Gallery. Photo by Page Graham.

Just to clarify, St. Apophenia is Sauter’s creation.

Apophenia, by definition, “is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.”

This allows us to see the sacred in unrelated things. Like tortillas. Or clouds. Or shrouds. St. Apophenia’s FB page cites that she is “the patron saint of Patternmakers, Fortunetellers, Coincidence, the Mentally Ill, and Artists.”

Think about it, for many saints there is no proof they ever really existed, or some are amalgams of several people. As Sauter reiterates, “Saints have function in the lives of the faithful whether they exist or not.” And take heed, there is no mockery present in this series of works.

Sauter dismisses mockery as boring. “It is very easy to offend people — I don’t set out to do that.”

Opening reception of Chris Sauter's installation at Southwest School of Art. Photo by Page Graham.
Opening reception of Chris Sauter’s installation at Southwest School of Art. Photo by Page Graham.

Instead, Sauter establishes that he sees his work as “collapsing dichotomies,” a conclusion he arrived at a decade ago.

“We, as humans, like to set up dichotomies and it’s fruitful for me because I’m able to see those connections.”

It is in following these connections – the act of making the pilgrimage to the various locations of this exhibition – that one takes a leap of faith and plays along with the artist. This show requires a certain amount of duty – daresay, devotion – on the part of the viewing audience in order for the artist to accomplish his goal.

Yes, you could certainly pop into one venue and come away with an experience, but it would be incomplete. It is in following Sauter’s path that you engage in the ultimate communion of the piece – the message of transformation.

Chris described his mission as starting in earnest “because of the politics and controversy that surrounds teaching science.”

Sauter believes that this is a misunderstanding, and that science and religion shouldn’t be in opposition. He posits that science came out of religion, a prime example being the science of astronomy born from the belief system, religion,  of astrology. This work is about that exploration – breaking down the dichotomies between two man-made institutions.

Also, keep in mind that this exploration isn’t at all autobiographical. He grew up going to a Lutheran church every Sunday with his grandparents when he was growing up just north of San Antonio in Boerne. This isn’t about Chris – don’t make that assumption.

"Shape of the Universe" exhibit by Chris Sauter at Fl!ght Gallery. Photo by Page Graham.
“Shape of the Universe” exhibit by Chris Sauter at Fl!ght Gallery. Photo by Page Graham.

In the process of putting this show together, Sauter learned that, “the division between science and religion is so false. And dangerous!” The artist is adamant, “I have always believed that, and now more than ever. In each there is the desire to understand and affect the world around you.” He also learned his worth in our community. He humbly relates, “I didn’t realize the level of worth for me as an artist. I just asked, and people said yes. This was definitely about the communal quest — one of the great things about San Antonio,” in reference to his desire to stage this quest at multiple venues.

Sauter was perhaps most surprised and appreciative of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, whose leaders said, “That sounds great,” in response to his request. “What do you do in a church?” queries Sauter. “You actively listen. Faithfully. Same thing with a radio telescope.”

He’s referring to the sculptural representation currently in situ at the church. With a tip of the hat to the SETI Project and the Arecibo Message, he adds, “and we hope that what’s out there is benevolent.”

"Communion" by Chris Sauter at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Photo by Page Graham>
“Communion” by Chris Sauter at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Photo by Page Graham.

Now is a great time to act. All of the venues are currently open, and immediate gratification is possible. And we are going to make it so easy for you. This is your guide to The Pilgrimage of St. Apophenia — an urban odyssey. There is also an Audio Cell Phone Tour that Sauter encourages us to check into, even before seeing the exhibits. You arrive armed with information and perspective. That number is (210) 280-4028.

Map of Chris Sauter’s current exhibits in San Anotnio.

“Doubt” at Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus, up until Feb. 2

“The Key” to the project, this is the seed of all the other locales. It is certainly the largest installation, and via myriad media and imagery, it lays the groundwork for questioning by essentially dissecting the trappings of religion and science, showing us intersections of philosophy. Each successive installation gets smaller and more distilled in scope. Sauter will be giving another talk at SSA in the Russell Hill Rogers Lecture Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

“Faith & Reason” at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, up until Jan. 19

A series of photographs taken on a plane, Sauter’s gut reaction thoughts scrawled on the windows. This piece is primarily about faith. Most do not quite grasp the science that makes flight in a jumbo jet work. However, we do seem to have a tremendous amount of faith in this science cruising at 30,000 feet.

“Shape of the Universe” at FL¡GHT Gallery at 1906 S. Flores on Saturday, Jan. 11, 6-9 p.m.

Smaller yet, viewing the cosmos through the filters of science and religion. This gallery is within the 1906 complex of galleries, and your best bet to see this installation before it closes is the upcoming Second Saturday. Haven’t been to Second Saturday at SoFlo Art District yet? What are you waiting for? If you can’t make it out this Saturday, proprietors Ed Saavedra or Justin Parr will open by appointment. Call (210) 872-2586. / Facebook.

“Communion” at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 315 E Pecan St, up until Jan. 26

This little gem is open to the public Monday – Friday, 9am ’til 5pm, or you can certainly come in for services on Sunday. Reaching out, listening intently, in search of a connection with other sentient beings.

Chris Sauter at his East Side studio, formerly a church building. Photo by Page Graham.
Chris Sauter in front of his East Side studio, formerly a church building. Photo by Page Graham.

If you are familiar with Chris and his work, you have probably already set upon this journey. Sauter is an affable guy with a beautiful mind and a dry wit.

If you are unfamiliar, this is a great opportunity to engage with a warm human touchstone here in our local contemporary art community. I always find myself enjoying the interaction, although I may occasionally be lost or puzzled. Don’t worry, that is an aspect of conceptual art to absorb, a pilgrimage so to speak. Having questions and seeking answers where none may exist is part of the ride. Let go and enjoy – who knows what you may find?

Bless us, St. Apophenia…

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Tami Kegley

Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession...