Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the perception of time and space have come into question. For most, months spent in quarantine—confined to a singular dwelling with limited human interaction—warped reality. Days blurred, rooms started to take on dual roles (if not more), and screens were the lone form of communication. Faced with this scenario, many began to closely examine how they interacted with their environments. But for Sarah Sze, this level of scrutiny was nothing new.
The New York–based artist has been celebrated for an oeuvre that explores human dynamics in extraordinary surroundings. Her expansive installations—which combine video screens, projections, lights, paintings, and found objects—have been on view at some of the leading art institutions across the globe. From the Venice Biennale to the Museum of Modern Art to the Whitney Museum of American Art, Sze has created temporary spaces that play with interlocking planes, blurring the lines between digital and physical realms.
Now, she will highlight the same ideas for a solo show at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, which will be on view from October 24 to March 7, 2021. Housed in Jean Nouvel’s iconic building and curated by Leanne Sacramone, Sze’s two installations—Twice Twilight, a planetarium staged in darkness, and Tracing Fallen Sky, a pool-like structure under a swinging pendulum—will examine shifts in time and space. Indeed, both works were envisioned and predominantly made during quarantine, intending to reflect the thought patterns many faced during months in lockdown.
Ahead, Sze chats with BAZAAR.com about her work and the messages behind them, and gives a first glimpse into her exhibition at the Cartier Foundation.
With your extensive training in various art forms, why are installations your preferred medium?
I felt like I had learned so much of the skill that it became almost athletic. There was this kind of attachment to being a very good painter, but I didn’t have content. I didn’t know why I was painting things. So part of becoming a sculptor or an installation artist was just saying, “Okay, let’s get rid of all the tools that I’ve trained in and see what I have to say.”
My father is an architect, and I grew up around looking at architecture. So this kind of marriage of painting and architecture became installation art. I’d always thought about space in terms of how do you enter a space? How do you exit it? What is the light? What’s the circulation? Is it intimate? Is it scaled to an institutional scale? Is it a domestic scale? Even as a child, I didn’t even realize that that’s how I read spaces. Those are just immediately what I think about all the time, so I came into the installation very naturally.
Is the idea of reconfiguring spaces the overriding message you’re trying to convey with your expansive installations?
Yes, I play with ideas of scale shifts, monumentality, and ephemerality. I am really thinking about time. They’re expansive in that they’re in the process of growth. Very small gestures become very large over time. For me, it was interesting to have installations be something that you could imagine growing, and you could also imagine dying, and that in that moment of seeing it, you have this kind of heightened awareness of time, because you are in the present. You’re thinking about how it grew, you’re thinking about how it’s going to die, and you know that moment is precious.
On the subject of time, has your thinking changed on the matter in the COVID-19 era?
Absolutely. I think we are in a global experiment with time. You’re in a petri dish when quarantined. Your sense of time changes; it becomes very emotional. We begin to mark it through our senses, through tactility, through sense of smell, through color, through light. So much of our communication in this social experiment that’s quarantine, on everything being forcibly digital, has been turned way up. I think that there’s a kind of longing for interaction, for spontaneity; the kind of spontaneity you get in real time, of walking down the street and running into someone you didn’t know; the spontaneity of nature, because we are very much in human-made environments. There’s a real longing for all that.
Is all of this reflected in your installations for the Cartier Foundation? Twilight and Tracing Fallen Sky?
The whole show is very much about this kind of dystopia, or this kind of confusion—not in a negative way necessarily, but a blending of what is physical and what is digital, and how we experience the world in the present, in terms of memory, and what we imagine in the future.
Can you describe some of the elements in these installations that convey this idea?
The building itself is this kind of amazing—there is literally a glass screen in front of the entire building that’s bigger than the building itself, which you can actually pass through. You experience passing through these screens, and the confusion about whether you’re inside or outside, or if a reflection is real or not. It has a hall-of-mirrors quality. I am playing off that by making what is basically a Russian doll structure. As you move into the building, everything begins to scale down. There’s a projector [at the center] that has a planetarium quality. And as you approach the planetarium, you move into another interior, and then another smaller interior, and then another until you reach one to the scale of your hand.
Throughout, your body and other people’s bodies are filmed and projected. You’ll see your body become a silhouette across the interior of the space. The physical things get completely confused with digital things. So you’re seeing things physically in front of you, and they’re being confused with things that reflect them, but are not them.
The second piece is almost like a Narcissus pool, where the circle is drawn by a swinging pendulum. And when you look down into the pool, you see reflected images float to the edge, along with found objects. There is this confusion of objects and images of objects in a real space, and the two flip back and forth in terms of your focus.
It sounds like a complicated process to make. How did you create all this in lockdown?
I’ve always tried to bring the live process of a studio into a space. A lot of my work looks like it could be a laboratory, a workshop, or a video editing place. It’s kind of like looking behind the curtain in a theater. For this show, I was going to do a lot of it on-site. Instead, I set up my studio and did it during COVID, and I was able to figure out a lot then. But then there’s certain things that needed to be figured out on site. So when you go in, you see something as simple as a French sugar package. There are things from 1980, from yesterday, from New York, from Paris. You have this narrative through objects. It’s a reflection on how I experience the world.
It’s like a living entity.
Exactly, it has this feeling of spreading. It doesn’t have boundaries.
Now that you mention boundaries and spreading, how do you feel about a lot of these art institutions opening their doors amid a health crisis? Are you worried about crowding?
I’m really interested in art being seen in many different ways. In this context, it’s actually a real privilege to see work outside of a crowd. Most museums have limited viewing times for their board members, or for artists like me. I have been to probably every museum off hours. I’ve had that privilege, because I’ve been installing, or giving a lecture. My favorite thing in the entire world is to wander the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum alone.
So the Foundation is going to follow this process?
It will allow limited numbers. There’s downsides to that, but the people who will make the effort to reserve [spots] will have a very special experience. In COVID, everyone who is an art lover should immediately get in line to do this, because it won’t exist again. It will be a very intimate experience, and sometimes art should be experienced that way. There’s some artworks that are made to be pilgrimages. It’s limited to time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Source: Read Full Article