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the artist creates complex immersive worlds from everyday objects

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The maxim that “a whole is greater than the sum of its parts” fits perfectly with the wild and entropic installations of the American artist Sarah Sze. The “whole” in question elevates its required parts by finding magic in the mundane, taking everyday objects and integrating them into a commentary on the human need to make sense of a broken world. Sze emerged on the American art scene in the early 2000s with rapid success, graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York before receiving a MacArthur “genius” scholarship in 2003 and representing the United States at the Biennale. of Venice a decade later.

I am interested in showing the viewer that the work is generated before your eyes

Sze’s buzzing ecologies are currently on display in his solo exhibition Time lapse, which occupies both the interior spaces and the facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Another site-specific intervention will open later this month in a long-abandoned waiting room above London’s Peckham Rye station. Co-commissioned by UK arts organization Artangel, The old waiting room will occupy a vaulted space above the station’s main ticket office, a room that has been condemned for 50 years.

The Art Newspaper: The Guggenheim is so architecturally unique, with its circular walls and spiral ramp running along its central atrium. Could you tell us about the different concerns you had about activating space and how that influenced your choices?

Sarah Sze: Within the Guggenheim, every decision affects every inch of this museum, because every inch of it changes. The floors are at different angles. In each bay, each measurement is different. I think it’s one of the most radical buildings ever built. Plus you have this massive void behind you that changes your whole sense of space. So even if you take a piece of the architecture, you really can’t feel what it’s like to be in that space.

I thought of every berry [off the central walkway] as being some sort of image maker, and they each create images in different ways. Thus, a painting will make a video, will make a sculpture; or a sculpture will make a video, will make a painting; and they merge and they become one, and they separate and they become three before your eyes in each bay in different ways.

It’s so rewarding and interesting to go and see how people come in — there are people sitting on the floor, there are children gathered in front of the Timekeepers. There is nothing broken after two openings and ten days [of being open to the public, and] of 15,000 people who go there on weekends. The behavior of the public in space is totally different. The head of security walked up to me and said, “I’ve worked here for 20 years and I’ve never seen this kind of engagement with artwork before.” People usually move [up the museum’s ramp] at a certain rate, and they measured it for the crowds, [but that rate has been] exponentially slowed down in the show.

Do you have a sketching practice? How do you start the first moves to put a piece together?

I have a sketching process that’s actually more based on my architectural background, which is more abstract – loose lines that kind of show you the cadence of the overall composition of how it works, the choreography of the where you could move fast, move slow. For Time lapse, I wanted the transitions to be very choreographed. Once you realize what happens to your art in space, this blurring of art in life, of architecture in a work of art, of light in dark, it happens naturally to through the movement of your body and time. So everything is drawn in sketches.

Exhibition 2020 of Sze night to day at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, a vast site-specific installation transformed Jean Nouvel’s glass building Photo © Luc Boegly

Speaking of your architectural journey – in terms of gesture and light – how will your work interact with Peckham Rye’s ‘forgotten’ waiting room?

It’s such a crazy, amazing, really exciting space. To my knowledge it was built in 1865 and has not been open to the public since 1962. I was told there was this expectation when the Crystal Palace was built – and this is anecdotal – that since there would be all these people who wanted to go there, this waiting room would be really necessary, but it was a miscalculation on the need. Then it went through different stages. It was a pool hall for a while. And then they just had no use for it. So it was literally barricaded – some of them blocked off with cement – just sitting there, kind of hidden in plain sight. So you have trains passing on either side, but you have this time capsule in the middle of contemporary life.

I don’t want to give away too much of what I’m going to do, but I’m definitely into this idea of ​​a waiting room or waiting for a train. This tension has always interested me. I’m interested in playing in the desire that it would have been a great place, and it’s now pretty decrepit, but in this beautiful way – the sense of greatness, lost or found, but reinvented. This kind of magical experience is quite what you feel when you get up there.

I am interested in work that gives the impression that it is still alive. He has a sense of live performance, live jazz, live dance, any of those things. And when you get there, you feel like something might happen in the moment, that if you stayed another hour, it would be a different room. You feel like you’re entering this space that’s forgotten, but then you have this fully alive feeling of a living arrival in space, a new arrival, a new way of using this space.

I thought of the station as a place, of the waiting room as a place. I was talking to the people I work with to install [the work] and brainstorming; there are a lot of things that I don’t know in which direction we will continue, but I like this idea of ​​a place where we anticipate. LaGuardia Airport [in New York] was a really interesting order for me because in an airport, whether you are arriving or leaving, you are in this moment of great anticipation of what is going to happen. The waiting room is also this idea of ​​waiting for something – you are in this moment of waiting.

I think in my plays I’ve always been interested in trying to find a place where you’re just at this tipping point between coming or going, between growing or dying, between entropy and growing, and they’re kind of at that tipping point-you’re on that tightrope of going one way or the other.

What is your sourcing process for all these parts, because there are so many moving parts?

One of the things that interests me is the idea of ​​how an image generates or self-generates, and how we generate images now. It’s different like never before because they’re exchanged, they’re changed, we take them ourselves. Authorship is questionable, ownership is questionable. The image competes with, if not replaces, the object in terms of the ways we express ourselves and communicate through non-living things.

I think that in the work itself and in any show, what interests me is to show the viewer that the work is generated before their eyes. And it also has to do with the tools that are used. The sculpture itself is the tool. In the Artangel order, all the video cameras are in the sculpture. So the sculpture is both the sculpture and it is the tool. And I was still thinking today, how can we make a painting of it too?

My work is sourced to a certain extent, but the source is the world. Most of the images, for example, are from my iPhone. But 10% isn’t, and that’s a big 10% because I’m interested in the idea that if you want to buy a photo of a volcano, you can buy it like you can buy a brush; it’s yours and you own it, and it’s something relatively new.

The trading of images, the possession of images, the changing of images, has actually been around for a long time. But now it’s used every day in a way it never was before. So, like images, you can find objects anywhere in a way that’s really particular, I think, to the here and now.

Installation view of the current Sze exhibition Time lapse at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The show weaves its way throughout the museum, including the outer walls and the public sphere beyond

Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation


Born: 1969 Boston

Lives: new York

Training: 1991 Yale University, New Haven; 1997 School of Visual Arts, New York

Key shows: 1997 White Columns, New York; 1999 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; 2002 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 2003 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 2013 55th Venice Biennale; 2020 Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, Paris

Represented by: Gagosian, Tanya Bonakdar and Victoria Miro Gallery

Sarah Sze: Accelerated, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, until September 10; Sarah Sze: the old waiting roomPeckham Rye Station, London, May 19-September 16

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