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Sarah Sze - Tilting Planet

Fragments of light, colour and object make up Sarah Sze’s dynamic show at the Baltic

At the Baltic Mill Gallery, Newcastle on Tyne, until August. (

At the gallery entrance, the doormat fragments, and merges with A4 paper tiles, which take off over a parabolic gridshell of blue wool tendons, modelling a megastructure roof sheltering what appears to be a 3D city masterplan, street grids represented again by blue wool, blocks infilled by a rainbow of miscellaneous hardware and haberdashery. Some are scale-less abstract symbols - bottle tops, chopped sections of wool swarming like toy soldiers, paper rolls like grain silos. Some are not so abstract - large and small drinking water bottles, old clothes, shop catalogues, general clutter, an anglepoise lamp, under whose beam the antlike wool-dots gather. Parts of the model are going for a walk towards other exhibits. Some materials are piled up but not yet arranged. The roof tendons then shoot across the room and dive into another cluster of narrative detail.

A dozen or so linked tableaux - mad, delightful virtuosic collages - show the same tricks of scale and meaning. Bedrooms, water gardens, chairs strapped to walls, Rackham-esqe toothpick towers, paper mini-cityscapes, fragile, intimate and dynamic mixed-material assemblages are loaded with personal language which cannot be quite decoded.

Sze studied architecture and acknowledges evident influences: Lissitzky’s prouns, Schwitters’ collages, automatic writing, Dali, pointillism, and  bears comparison to Cornelia Parker’s exploded shed piece Dark Matter. The work reveals the human ordering impulse - repetitive patterning seen in greengrocer’s windows and Busby Berkeley choreography. But another more mysterious force is at work - the objects seem be assembling ( or is it dismantling ) themselves, but the process has been interrupted, prompting us to finish the image or gesture, acknowledging its irony, humour and uncertainty as we do so.

Gallery staff reported some visitors came ready to mock conceptual art made from trash, but left impressed. I’m not surprised.


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