Reality check
Wallpaper|November 2020
Artist Sarah Sze explores the shadowy spaces between physical and digital worlds

For a while, early on, the American artist Sarah Sze didn’t say much in interviews. She wanted the interviewer to do a lot of the work. Now she talks a lot. And her conversations, like her work, are expansive, dizzying, serious but sometimes funny, fractured but propulsive, and explosive with ideas. They do focus, if you nudge them that way, on the experience of art and how art is about the way we experience everything. She talks about, and makes art about, the internal and external machinery of experience.

Sze studied architecture and painting, but she is known for large-scale sculptural installations – a logical confluence – mostly built using found objects and scraps of paper, sometimes potted plants and moss. The installations mostly spread beyond their assigned space, precisely strewn, constellations to explore, as much nothing as something. Sometimes they look like exploded workstations in a dust cloud of information, notions and conjecture.

Increasingly, Sze has introduced (or rather reintroduced) moving image into her work, projections on walls and those paper scraps, often of nature at its more emphatic – geysers in full gush, cheetahs in full flight. Roaringly physical elements are presented as fragments, flattened and faded. And Sze’s work more and more addresses the indistinct edges of the digital and physical, our willing offloading of remembering, our immersion in the second-hand. In her new show, ‘Night into Day’, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris – not conceived during the pandemic but impacted by it and spookily prescient and pertinent – she takes this conversation further, adding new engines of experience.

Part of her ongoing Timekeeper series, the physical centrepiece of the show is Twice Twilight, a sphere, or the suggestion of a sphere – outlined in torn paper and photographs, potent debris and projected images – held in place by a scaffolding of bamboo and metal rods. As Sze says, there is no sphere there at all, we construct the sphere in our heads. ‘It harnesses space, nesting a void,’ she says.

Again, there are moving images of nature and the elemental. And the installation suggests a planetarium, something cosmological in ambition. Though as the French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour says, the implied scale of Sze’s work is often hard to gauge. Is she conjuring up expanding universes or imploding stars, or drilling into the sub-atomic?

A second work, Tracing Fallen Sky, is a mirrored concave bowl made of steel and glazed clay, reflecting, distorting, fragmenting, splintering Sze’s universe of matter and moving image. Above it swings a pendulum, keeping some kind of time, though nothing you could dance to.

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