SARAH SZE: Liverpool Biennial 2008
Sarah Sze (b. 1969, Boston, USA) produces intricate landscapes that make us wonder at the fragility of the universe. Constructed from everyday materials arranged in a succession of ever more precarious dependencies, her installations are like highly organic ecosystems, colonising the space they inhabit.
Sarah Sze’s commission for MADE UP, like the fragmented residue of a whirlwind, filled a stairwell at the Bluecoat named the ‘Vide’, or void, by its architects. A fragile sediment – made up of architectural elements, paint charts, interior samples, bricks, building materials, moss, plants and roots – clung to the edges of the columnar space, like a tidemark describing the outermost limits of a recent trajectory.
Sze described this work as ‘an event caught in mid gestation’, and the language is telling. It is hard not to draw on the language of biology when describing Sze’s work. Her installations are not built or constructed. They hatch or germinate, emerging miraculously as animate creations from a collection of inanimate objects. In their presence, we feel as if we are witnessing the moment of creation itself.
Architecture is a crucial element in Sze’s practise, and intricate landscapes make us wonder at the fragility of the universe. Constructed from everyday materials arranged in a succession of ever more precarious dependencies, her installations are like highly organic ecosystems, colonising the space they inhabit. Architecture is transformed into habitat, every inch colonised by the work as it travels through the space like a plant in search of the light. And if the works often negotiate a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with the buildings they inhabit, they also play on and challenge the architectural language, proposing an architecture of the impossible, where entire structures grow from the smallest and most fragile of foundations.
In Untitled (2008) Sze approaches space ‘as an incubating container for activity, growth and dynamism’. The work was less a landscape, more a series of movements through landscape, each successive step a play on balance and gravity. As we followed its uncertain journey through the space, and marvelled at each dramatic shift in scale and pace, we responded to the strong narrative component to the work. The vertical walls of the Bluecoat Vide marked the habitable boundaries for the fragile ecology once contained within, and the viewer was invited to climb the stairs around this vertical incubator to witness each chapter in the work’s perilous migration to the ceiling.
Sarah Sze presents us with a compelling image of the universe in microcosm, revealing not a stable, certain terrain, but an intricate web of unsteady co-dependencies, where migration could easily become flight, and sustenance hovers on the edge of collapse.