I’ll bet that all of us, at some point, unconsciously, or perhaps on a quiet hung-over afternoon at work, have made a miniature desk installation with pens, rubbers, elastic bands and so on.  But artist Sarah Sze takes juxtapositions of familiar objects to a new level. Her current exhibition at the Victoria Miro features a series of installations - an astonishing combination of ready-made and created objects, each with a poetic sense of form.

Born in Boston, Sze now lives and works in New York, but there is an aesthetic in her work that echoes those found in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. This may in part have been influenced by her background (her father is Shanghai-born), but the main similarities can be observed in her exploration of space; the sudden shifts in scale, from minutely formed structures to bold and simple frameworks. There is a delicate balance of weight and a lightness of touch in these three dimensional works. The pieces are expansive and yet controlled, as if held together in effortless harmony. There is something almost Taoist in the vitality and restraint of her works: they are natural, simple and spontaneous, linking the throwaway and the precious in a codependent equilibrium.  

In the lower gallery there are five separate installations, each a constellation of materials. Created from paint cans, string, charcoal, clamps, paper and hand-formed sculptures, to name just a few of the objects that make up the works, there is a sense of magnetism between the unusual materials. The pieces appear suspended in the gallery space, springing from the surfaces of the gallery floors and walls, with the tension and lightness of a house of cards. Each installation seems to have a paradoxical quality of perfect imperfection, a harmony of incongruous forms.

The highlight of the exhibition is the large scale installation on the first floor. Pendulum consists of countless materials, many familiar household materials such as cups, bottles and lamps. It is a visual ensemble of textures, along with incidental sounds and movements. The latent energy of the installation is evident, not only in the overall composition, but in the individual components of the piece. The care with which each paperclip or cup has been placed in relation to the others, along with the combination of intricately-formed ceramic vessels, give the piece a stillness - offset by the use of the fans and paper - and a flutter of unpredictability, of barely contained movement.

When experiencing the art, there is a desire to playfully interact with it, to pick up and rearrange objects. But this compulsion is surpassed by our appreciation of the finely tuned balance of the work, and our awareness of its fragility. The lingering impression of the exhibition is of the interconnectedness of people and objects, on both a minute scale and in a wider philosophical sense. The viewer is aware of their own physicality in relation to the work; the materials are familiar, and we are aware of their weight and the feel of their surfaces. At the same time, the precariousness of the work reminds us of our potential for force and our ability to change the appearance of the work. There is a heightened awareness of the smaller components of the human body, the movement of bones and muscles - as if, like the work, each viewer is an assemblage of materials and textures. This awareness, experienced in relation to Sze’s compositions, can open out into a wider significance. The work calls to mind ideas of global interdependency, and remind us of the forces that hold us together in our lives. Sze’s work has the potential for carefully engineered alterations as well as for sudden chaotic changes. The architecture of her forms can be understood as a reflection on the social and political systems that currently frame our worlds, and their simultaneous strength and brittleness. 

Next time we find ourselves carefully arranging our pens and pencils, balancing coins or stacking books, we might remember the harmony of Sze’s work and feel a sharper sense of the spaces we inhabit and the way in which we orientate ourselves in relation to the unfolding environments around us.  

Sarah Sze, at Victoria Miro GalleryJessica Shepherd reviews the Sarah Sze exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery.4