To look at Sarah Sze’s new installations at the Nasher Sculpture Center, to walk around them, even above the projections on the floor, is to think about what they say about our lives.
What, after all, is consciousness? Tangled fragments of sensation, memory, and thought, sometimes connected by threads of association.
So it is with Sze’s works created especially for Nasher: fragments of images hung on wires or rolled around the walls. Three installations, in three different galleries, are very different, but have a family connection. Natural scenes predominate in photos and projections.
Walking into the Nasher, the first thing you’ll see, at the other end of the entrance gallery, is Cave painting. From a distance, you’ll spot fragments of sunset photographs, some upside down. On closer inspection, other images, printed on scraps of hand-torn paper, include trees (some photographed in Nasher’s garden) and distant flocks of birds.
These photo images are attached with alligator clips to hanging strings. The image is provisional, as if images can be rearranged at any time, as with our perceptions and memories. There are actually three layers of these suspended images, like layers and overlays of thought; beyond photographic overlays, the Nasher Garden is a de facto participant in art.
The strings are anchored to the floor with small black river stones. The tools of the trade litter the floor: strings, paint, tape. By reinforcing the transience of perceptions and memories, matchboxes can potentially set everything on fire.
As Martha Schwendener wrote in a recent New York Times column on Sze’s work, “There is evidence of much effort, much activity, and a sense of art in the process of creation, rather than being finished and abandoned.”
Sze (pronounced “zee”) came naturally to her blending of two and three dimensions, in media ranging from paint, photography and video to elaborate sculptural structures. Her father is an architect, and she studied architecture as well as painting for her undergraduate degree at Yale, followed by an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
A professor of visual art at Columbia University, Sze has been represented at the Whitney, Venice and other biennials, and has created installations at New York’s Guggenheim and the new Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport. Nasher director Jeremy Strick and chief curator Jed Morse have been interested in presenting her work since at least 2016, but plans were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sze’s interest in visual transience is illustrated most dramatically in two other Nasher installations. In both directions in a dark gallery, Slow dance suspends sliding mosaics of white paper. Varying in size and shape, the blank sheets become projection screens, vividly shifting between passing colors and images.
The framed sketches continue as projections on the floor you walk on and between, and on the dark walls behind. With low booming sounds and high twitter, this is definitely immersive art.
The immersion spreads around the walls of the darkened gallery downstairs, with projected nature scenes of Love song spinning as if from a moving vehicle. (Beware those with motion sensitivities and be prepared for projector lights shining into your eyes.)
From within a neat sculptural tree in the middle of the room, projectors on a turntable spin those moving images around the room. The “leaves” of the tree, ink prints of the actual ones, are silhouetted. A small screen inside the tree portrays yellowed postcards, like faded memories.
Ultimately, Sze’s Nasher installations are about how we perceive the world around us: how we are bombarded with sensory stimuli and how our networks of electrical impulses and chemicals regulate and process them. How in the end everything is provisional, transitory – and to be embraced as such.
“Sarah Sze” runs through Aug. 18 at the Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St. 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday. 10 dollars; discounts for seniors and students; free for children 12 and under. 214-242-5100, nashersculpturecenter.org.