Fall 2010,Degree Critical

Tuesday 11/16/2010

Sarah Sze. The Uncountables (Encyclopedia) (2010). Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar, New York.

The Uncountables (Encyclopedia)

bySarah Stephenson (Class of 2010)

In Sarah Sze’s first exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar, towering shelves precariously tilted towards the wall, held upright only by taut wool threads, while recognizable objects from the garage, kitchen or kids’ room had been reconstructed and meticulously placed along or around the shelves. The threads, along with blue masking tape stretching across the floor, led the viewer’s eye from the shelves to various functional features of the gallery, as well as to other items Sze had introduced into the space, such as a series of plaster containers tucked under a bookshelf. These parasitic lines, reminiscent of a multi-layered Julie Mehretu painting, drew the viewer from installation to installation in this exhibition of organized chaos, perpetually on the brink of collapse.

Sze often brings together the individual components of everyday life in her work and builds them into site-specific pieces, using an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach like Jessica Stockholder and Jason Rhoades. We navigate through the space, trying to get close to examine the items, but feel clumsy in Sze’s volatile and delicate universe. The collection of familiar objects made unfamiliar, from silk pins, pebbles and cast molds of dead mice to milk cartons, origami fish and drill bits, resembled the remnants of some cataclysmic disaster, with Sze cataloging the aftermath. The parenthetic word in the title of the main ground floor installation The Uncountables (Encyclopedia) reinforced the taxonomic quality of her work.

These normally disposable and often mass-produced objects Sze deploys are made more valuable and almost sanctified through their composition into monumental pieces. Abstracted from the uses and functions that confer their forms on them, the works appear like homemade Calder sculptures. Combining the practical construction of the installations with colorful elements and improvisational, site-specific techniques, Sze’s mixed interests in both architecture and fine art are revealed. And with makeshift constructions such as 360 (Portable Planetarium), it is easy to imagine that we have walked in on an extravagant children’s experiment, while works such as Landscape for the Urban Dweller (Horizon Line) give the impression of having their own ecology — light, soil, plants, water, and wind reaching up to the skylight — as well as a meditative aspect with regular chiming from a key swinging against broken glass. Form and content are symbiotic here and through the tense dynamism of the experience, the viewer is easily able to establish visceral interpretations with the work and the outside world.