Sarah Sze on how to make sense of your life

The US artist on why her new self-titled Victoria Miro show is like a series of short poems
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Sarah Sze, installation view, Still Life with Desk, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze
Sarah Sze, installation view, Still Life with Desk, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze

On first inspection Sarah Sze's new London exhibition is pretty hard to get a handle on. This large-scale show by this American artist, who represented the USA at the 2013 Venice Biennale, opened at both of Victoria Miro’s London galleries at the weekend, and runs at the Wharf Road space until March 28, and at the Mayfair location until March 14.

Three exhibition spaces in Wharf Road are given over to three very different sets of work: a ‘sculpture that acts as a copy of a desk', as the artist puts it, in the gallery’s ground floor space; a ‘calendar-landscape’ in the floor above this, made from cut up newspapers and other objects; and a series of rock-themed works on the top floor.

Meanwhile, over in Mayfair, the more compact gallery is devoted to a series of smaller works, which, the artist explains in our interview below, can be thought of as ‘having the density of short poems’.

It's an engaging, beguiling show. Yet, how should we best approach it? Fortunately, Sarah has picked out a few overarching themes, one of which is how we make sense of our lives over time, in this exclusive interview for Phaidon.com. Read on to discover which Lawrence Weiner work inspired her, why all these disparate parts add up to a whole, and how, for her, an art show is a little bit like a science lab.

 

Sarah Sze, installation view, Model Series, 2015; 30 January – 14 March 2015; Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St Geroge Street, London, W1S 1FE. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze
Sarah Sze, installation view, Model Series, 2015; 30 January – 14 March 2015; Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St Geroge Street, London, W1S 1FE. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze

What was the starting point for this new show? "As a starting point, there is a great Lawrence Weiner work called Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole, and this relates to something I think about in my work. I am very interested in the idea of smaller units that add up to a whole."

Your works are often closely linked to a gallery’s architecture. How have Victoria Miro's galleries inspired you? "One of the wonderful things about Victoria Miro’s gallery is the very diverse nature of the different galleries. Mayfair is an intimate jewel box, while Wharf Road ranges from a raw attic-like factory space to majestic, immaculate, floating gallery above the water garden. Each gallery is installed with these very different in characters in mind, but they all are spaces where when you walk in, you have a sense of an overall landscape that fits together as a whole.."

 

Sarah Sze, installation view, Stone Series, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze
Sarah Sze, installation view, Stone Series, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze

The works at Wharf Road are listed as 'installations' while the works in Mayfair are 'sculptures'. What are the differences? "At Wharf Road you enter to a sculpture that acts as a copy of a desk but it is dilapidated, crumbling, suspended in a moment, seemingly ready to disappear with time. It is a sculpture of a workspace: a fragile, work desk that both references the specificity of the functional office spaces surrounding the gallery as well as the boundary between a work of art and the act of work."

 

Sarah Sze, installation view, Calendar Series, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW
Sarah Sze, installation view, Calendar Series, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW

"The installation upstairs is in effect a calendar made from three months' worth of newspapers in a effort to mark the passing of time. I was considering several questions: how do you measure space and time through physical materials? How do we measure time not only physically, but emotionally or psychologically? I've cut out all off the photographs in the news papers and replaced them with images that are not current events, but landscapes of natural elements that seem vast, timeless and without specific locations in time and space.

"In the top floor gallery at 14 Wharf Road is an expanse of rocks. The rocks are made from photographs of rocks and, along the wall, a spectrum of canvases which depict the individual colours that comprise the printed photographic image of a single rock. It is a landscape of rocks, and here, I've focussed on the essential properties (such as weight, volume and colour) that define a material, and how those properties can be broken down and played with.

 

Sarah Sze, installation view, Model Series, 2015; 30 January – 14 March 2015; Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St Geroge Street, London, W1S 1FE. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze
Sarah Sze, installation view, Model Series, 2015; 30 January – 14 March 2015; Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St Geroge Street, London, W1S 1FE. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze

"By contrast, in Mayfair there is a series of smaller works, which I think of more as having the density short poems. These sculptures act as models for ideas that are impossible to represent, such as a model for a first impression, or a model for a twist in plot. They are about modelling something fragile, fleeting, something you can’t grasp, or something that is given to chance or fate. Of course this is tied to an idea of time, too, and the question of how you can model a precise moment or experience." 

"Plants on office desks and rocks continuing outdoors on to the balcony are places where the works leave a viral trail out of the gallery spaces. And there is a series of prints divided between Mayfair and Wharf Road that act like a world clock, marking the time zones."

 

Sarah Sze, installation view, Still Life with Desk, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze
Sarah Sze, installation view, Still Life with Desk, 2013-2015; 30 January – 28 March 2015; Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Sarah Sze

To what extent is there is a definitive 'reading' of this exhibition?  "I try to not make a 'definitive' reading, but rather approach this question more from the point of what kinds of questions I posed when thinking about and making the work. Scientists frame their labs this way - their experiments are always based on a question which guides the initial direction of the research, although the discoveries they make are often quite different to the initial questions. With this show I was thinking about how we employ material objects to understand and navigate our physical, psychological and emotional relationship to time and space. Also about how we make sense of our environment, both natural and human made, through objects, well as the materials of our environment: how do they break down, how do they proliferate, how are they created? So I explored this set of questions in different ways in each room. And in each space there is the creation of a kind of landscape or field for the mind and body to inhabit, even if for a precise, fleeting moment."

Find out more about the new exhibition here, and check back soon for news of our forthcoming Sarah Sze monograph, a new addition to our Contemporary Artist series. Meanwhile, for more on the artist who inspired Sarah, take a look at our Lawrence Weiner book, which also forms part of this series.


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