by Shraddha NairFeb 17, 2021
The planetarium styled sculpture would hint at a sturdy installation, at least in terms of appearance. Breaking this speculation, amongst many other assumptions, is the art practice of the US-based sculptor Sarah Sze. Her colossal-sized immersive works created out of everyday objects complicate the idea of time, memory and space. Her latest exhibition, Night Into Day, at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris exploits the conventional boundaries of painting, sculpture and architecture to encapsulate the core of her practice: play with viewers' perception of time and space. Turning the boundaries between reality and fiction, present and past fuzzy, Sze puts images and objects at the centre of the pieces to question the meaning of time and place.
Taking cognizance of the transparent architecture of the Fondation Cartier, Sze meticulously displays moving images on the walls of the Fondation where images run in a motion to disappear and reemerge. The two sculptures - Twice Twilight and Tracing Fallen Sky - are responsive to day and night cycles, making them change according to the movement of the natural light. Sze notes, “As an artist, I think about the effort, desire, and continual longing we have had over the years to make meaning of the world around us through materials. And to try and locate a kind of wonder, but also a kind of futility that lies in that very fragile pursuit”. The two sculptures are modelled on the celestial motions of the planetarium and the pendulum.
In an effort to dilute the boundaries between inside and outside, illusion and reality, the virtual images of the installation Twice Twilight intermingle with the natural play of light seen through the glass walls of the gallery. Talking about the avant-garde architecture of Fondation Cartier, Jean Nouvel had mentioned, “The Fondation Cartier’s building involves the effect of blurring limits: not knowing exactly what is there and what is not, where it starts and where it ends”. Bringing these elements into play with her installations, Sze feeds life to them, the time does not follow a linear pattern and rather carries a circadian rhythm. The circular motion of the images seems to simulate the psychological sense of time where images dematerialise only to reappear out of our memory.
Describing the amalgamation of visual projections and installation, the curator of the exhibition, Leanne Sacramone, states, “Many of the images depict the four elements—fire, air, water, and earth—arranged by category, alchemical substances that were said in ancient Greece to compose the material world. They portray natural phenomena such as the setting of the sun, the flickering flame of a candle, the rush of a waterfall, or the reflections of light on water. Again, playing with scale, Sze shifts from the vast to the minute as she associates, for example, the growth of a spore with the immensity of the starry sky”.
The second installation, Tracing Fallen Sky, consists of 116 pieces of stainless steel that were used to create the very same installation. The small scraps of metal, salt and paint are positioned on the floor of the gallery to give an illusion of the concave bowl: an abyss of fragmented earth. Along with this, the videos projections highlight the melting of metal, the crystallisation of salt and the mixing of paint, the sky captured at different moments of the day, to reinforce the celestial state of consistent flux against the stagnant nature of things. The erratic swing of the pendulum, hovering at the top of the sculpture, defies the rotation of the earth to unveil the course of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the changes in the stars.
Besides the two sculptures as part of the exhibition Night into Day, the Fondation has produced Sze’s first artwork, Night Vision, by using augmented reality technology. Created in collaboration with the Lyon-based creative and digital studio Cher Ami, Night Vision uses the videos drawn from the two installations of the exhibition, the technology recreates the nocturnal environment to play with the visual perception of the viewers. Furthermore, the sound piece created by Sze works to accentuate the immersive experience around the work.
In the world determined to chart the course of the veracity of human behaviour and even the celestial movement with a precise methodology of quantification, Sze’s exhibition underscores the impossibility of reducing the vast universe of celestial bodies to calculative numbers as a pretext to understand its intricate dynamics.
Night into Day runs at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, until April 25, 2021.