Realer than Real: Sarah Sze at the Nasher Sculpture Center

The distinctions between what’s real and what’s virtual are growing fuzzier with each new day, not to mention each new tech gadget. Renowned artist Sarah Sze, whom The Guardian dubbed “the perfect artist for the age of information overload,” mirrors this dizzying cultural moment with site-specific and site-responsive architectural installations in which dimensions collapse amid a proliferation of images and objects.

For over 30 years, Sze’s broad array of interests have tended to revolve around ideas of time and space, but more specifically how we experience those abstract things. She often conceives of her multimedia digital and analogue works with the space and its broader contexts in mind.

For example, last year her installation Timelapse at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum turned the iconic building into a timekeeper, incorporating a pendulum, a live-feed projection of the moon, and streams of images, among other reminders of how the unfolding of time can be represented. Her project The Waiting Room, created for Artangel in an abandoned waiting room at Peckham Rye Station in London, included Metronome, a scaffolded structure supporting a spherical arrangement of images, illuminated by digital video projections. The work has been described as akin to an exploding smartphone. And Fallen Sky, a permanent sculpture on the grounds of the Storm King Art Center (Orange County, NY), disrupts spatial boundaries by embedding itself in the landscape and reflecting the sky; inside, painting and collage merge in an immersive sensory panorama.

Art-curious Texans have the chance to experience Sze’s work firsthand during her solo exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center, on view through Aug. 18. The artist has created new installations in three gallery spaces, “integrating painting, sculpture, images, sound, and video with the surrounding architecture to create intimate systems that reference the rapidly changing world,” according to the Sculpture Center.

But exactly what do these intimate systems look like? How do they take shape?

Chief Curator of the Sculpture Center Jed Morse says that, with Cave Painting, Slow Dance, and Love Song, visitors can expect an “immersive experience” of Sze’s work, “the sense of wading into a river of images and objects, and being subsumed within them.”

Morse also explains that these three works showcase Sze’s now signature exploration of the “tension between two-dimensional images and three-dimensional objects, the way objects can feel at once as if they are in the midst of being constructed or in the middle of coming apart.”

Cave Painting combines painting, collage, and found objects. In front of a window, strings dangle from the ceiling as supports for hand-torn inkjet prints of sunsets, sky, bodies of water, and other landscape elements, punctuated every so often with images of human hands. The torn images reveal the white substrate as a picture-framing device. On the ends of the strings, placed on the floor directly under the prints, are everyday objects such as pens, tape, clamps, sticky notes, and small stones. The effect is one of an abstracted readymade assemblage, a conglomerate of art history inextricable from contemporary visual culture.

For Slow Dance, says Morse, “Sze incorporates projected images, plus sound and video, that play across the architecture and sculpted planes of over 700 pieces of hand-torn paper. [Love Song] is an installation of objects and video with images and shadows that play against the walls and the glass front of that gallery.”

Here again are installations that utilize torn paper, everyday items, and digital and analogue images. Slow Dance flickers in a dark room with screenshot-like images of wildlife, fire, sunsets, birds in flight, and more. Love Song comprises an aluminum tree that envelopes a tangle of audio visual equipment. Shadowy, circular video projections of natural environments and their inhabitants cover the gallery walls.

The artist has always incorporated natural elements in many of her installations, and certainly images of nature and natural phenomena. “But within the context of the Nasher Sculpture Center,” says Morse, “the relationship to the garden—a natural environment within an urban context—is something that she’s particularly interested in exploring because of the way that nature is mediated.”

Sze’s artworks feel like a download and upload of information simultaneously, mirroring our ability to look at one thing and, in our mind’s eye, to think about or remember something else, all while sensing, participating in, and responding to the surrounding environment. These generative, dynamic sculptures both mark and defy time while making meaning in the process, heavily informed by the contexts and surroundings in which they—and we—reside.

“For Sarah, it’s always the human experience of the space,” according to Morse. “We can look at architecture aesthetically or conceptually, but ultimately architecture is made for us to inhabit.”