Am Universum with Sarah Sze

Years ago, in 2001, Finnish metal band Amorphis had an album with the intriguing title „Am Universum“. At that time I did not listen to Amorphis any longer and when I now try to get closer to it I fail because I find that kind of progressive metal into which they have amorphed over time unbearable. I like the title however, and it is true, they have expanded their sound spectrum and elevated their vision, nevertheless I have hitherto been unable to find out exactly about the motivation for that uncommon title. At any rate „am Universum“ is German and it would translate „at the universe“.

I first came across Sarah Sze via Brandon Taylor´s book „Art Today“. Two of her sculptures are featured, Untitled (St. James) (1998) and Second Means of Egress (1998). What comes to mind is that these sculptures/installations/environments seem to relate to a cosmic whole, respectively seem to express something which is infinite and larger than life, but within finite size – maybe we can say that Sarah Sze manages to express, or to give resemblance, to the infinite (or to openness and to anti-closure) with finite means.

sze1It is true that her sculptures transcend categories, and that they are sculptures, installations and environments in equal measure. They are composed of everday objects Sarah Sze buys at 99-cent stores which she then assembles and/or juxtaposes. So you can say you have the whole pseudo-fractal-like geometry of nature in there: when you zoom from the cosmic whole, the sublime, into distinctly smaller scales you have the mundane, the ephemeral, the seemingly insignificant, fabricated, exchangeable but also seemingly innocent, and pieces that are equipped with some distinct, though limited functionality. Indeed, Sarah Sze says she is not interested in objects themselves, but in relations between objects. She asks herself how would the compositional whole grow, alter, transform, and how would it decay, and also how would it look like or need to be rearranged when exposed in (that is to say: interact with) different environments. „For me, meaning is happening in the in-between, in the transistion of things, not the things themselves“, she says.

Sarah Sze´s objects are carefully and skillfully designed. They demand respect both of the vision they express and of the craftswomanship involved. They are quite a counterpoint to nowadays common pieces of art which may consist of a half-inflated rubber raft on a floor, a magnetic tape which displays a „Ha Ha“ in an endless loop and a camera which films the scenery supposedly forever (although it just appeared to me that would actually be a cool piece of art, we could name it („The Illusion of) Permanence“ or so…). And, as mentioned above, their primary strength is that they seem to represent the unrepresentable: the unrepresentable city, the unrepresentable universe. They are finite in size, but allude infinity in scale, they reach out into the depths of the unknown, therefore also cover the unknown. Again, as you have it in all valuable art, behind the world that is directly expressed, another world seems to indicate itself and within that interplay physics is transcended into metaphysics, respectively there is an interplay and an exchange between both the physical and the metaphysical.

sze2„Am Universum“ would translate into „at the universe“. The universe is everywhere, it is equally where we happen to be at the moment and it is forever „out there“. Especially Second Means of Egress gave me the idea of someone having established a tangent between those two „universes“: the total universe which is the all (in a primarily abstract, secondarily concrete sense) and the local universe which equally is the all (in a primarily concrete, secondarily abstract sense) (you can further elaborate this into „where ontology and epistemology meet“… but that is, to be correct, a „message from the future“ of humanity… or so) – and this intersection is where the magic happens and both avatars of the universe seem to merge into a kind of synthesis – at this intersection you are am Universum (with Sarah Sze).

Amorphis released a promising debut in the early 1990s, The Karelian Isthmus. and progressively amalgamated death/doom metal with Finnish folk music; their 1994s Tales from the Thousand Lakes made us very happy those days when we went to school, though I like the follower Elegy even more; it gives a really appropriate impression of elegy and of the northern territories in reality and inside us all. After that they morphed into a cosy progressive metal band, and I do not like such a kind of music. I do not deny sophistication in metal, but, you know, metal has to be the antithesis and uncompromising, or it is not. On that occasion I want to mention that the creativity, the craftsmanship as well as the transcendence involved in and articulated through metal is underrated.