Monthly Archives: March 2018

Sarah Sze at Asia society

In both drawing and sculpture I’m interested in the depiction of gravity and weightlessness as both an operative and a disorienting force. I’m thinking about floating, sinking, rising, drifting, and the resulting fragility, disorientation, and instability.


This comment made by the New York-based artist Sarah Sze reveals much about her artistic intentions. She is interested in creating a physical and metaphysical experience through her complex yet lyrical assemblages of everyday materials. This exhibition presents her drawings, works on paper, and a series of new works that reflect not only her careful selection and placement of objects, but also her play between the boundaries of drawing and sculpture.

Checks and Balances (detail), 2011

The exhibition features a new series of installations where issues of perspective and choreography—of how the observer moves through space—are shown to great effect. One element of Sze’s work that is rarely acknowledged is her preoccupation with perspective, in particular, the views that appear distant and close within the same picture plane, frequently seen in Chinese traditional scroll paintings. She has described this as an interest in scale shifts that result from the absence of a middle ground, or the transitional space that bridges the foreground and background. Sze creates views through the use of line, light, and the arrangement of materials, which lead the eye across her work, much like the composition of a drawing.  Here, she has created a series of works that consider the line between two and three-dimensional space.  Using the vertical format of a hanging scroll as a starting point, the works extend from the wall and are drawn to the floor as they examine illusionary space, perspective, and the representation of landscape.

Also on view is a selection of works on paper and drawings from 1996 to the present. Sze’s drawings nearly always comprise alternate views and perspectives in the same picture planes using simple lines. We are sometimes unsure of the view, whether we are looking out into the distance or observing something microscopic. Other works include prints that incorporate planes of color to complement the line compositions and provide depth, while her more recent works, such as Checks and Balances, feature collage techniques and a greater focus on blurring the line between drawing and the sculptural object.

Return to the intermedial gesture – Agamben, Kleist, Calvino, Odradek

Some time ago in 2016 I read von Kleist’s essay ‘On the puppet theatre’ in which he argued that a puppet could be more graceful than a dancer. Its in the form of a dialogue.

‘He smiled and replied that he dared to venture that a marionette could perform a dance that no dancer could equal…

Symmetry, mobility, lightness, only all of that to a higher degree…

For affectation appears when the dancer locates itself at any point other than the centre of gravity..

The puppet possess the virtue of being immune to gravitys force…the puppets need only touch upon the ground and the soaring of their limbs is newly anmated by this momentary hesitation”

I now realise that Agamben was in some way responding to this essay in some way in his Notes on Gesture. In Notes he takes Marey’s chronophotography and identifies this technology as a point at which human beings become like puppets – Chronophotography being an early form of motion capture, which ultimately led to the encoded of human motion in CGI puppets. So just as the wooden puppet is constrained by its strings and mechanics which we are all too aware of, so we are constrained by our own body-our being in a medium.   But motion capture also allows us to understand our body and its motion and offers new potential otherwise inaccessible to us.

So in the context of the intermedial gesture the puppe is positioned as follows

Being in a medium – the materiality of the puppet and its constraints allow us to identify with it and our own mediality

Staging the medium – we know the puppet isn’t human so we compare its behaviour to actual humans.

For example in Wael Shawkys puppet films we encounter the violence of the crusades through the materiality of the puppet which are also human.  So we can re enages with our being in a medium of history and our own bodies.

So lightness as in Calvino appears in the intermedial gesture as a kind of suspension between conflicting forces – see also the suspended fire engine of Theaster Gates.

I’m also now thinking of Odradek as a kind of puppet or maybe a fragment of a puppet, its spool , trailing thread.  Searching on this idea returns a book by Keith Piper in which he makes just this point…