Sarah Sze: Afterimage, Victoria Miro Gallery, 8 June – 28 July 2018

On the ground floor of the Victoria Miro, Sarah Sze’s laden paintings demonstrate the continuing relevance of the craft of collage. Her canvases sit weighted with the colour and texture of not just paint, but ripple as well with material detritus; an amass of scrap paper, torn images, postage stamps and tape that serves to reposition the work within the realm of the sculptural. 

The work reflects an accepted Duchampian tradition of finding and selecting the mediocre or banal, through which value is bestowed only through its method of arrangement. Yet here, matter sprawls randomly across the room, fingered first against canvas, then wall, and then floor, seemingly without order or pattern. In the chaos of this tableau, individual pictures call for attention. One area is dominated by photos of trees, juxtaposed with a picture of an archeological dig, a volcano, and an image of the artist’s own studio. Another corner offers an assortment of art historical-themed postage stamps, inclusive of a Calder mobile, a Warhol portrait, and a Clyfford Still, set against stamps of the celestial Eagle Nebula. Pictures are accompanied by stray strips of coloured paper, sometimes pinned, often taped on top of others. Statements of colour and texture are quickly followed by a visual counter, producing a pictorial dialogue between the materiality of one scrap of paper, and another.

Whilst there is an obvious playfulness to her practice, Sze’s work screams of a neurotic propensity for collecting; hours of insomnious cutting and pasting, endlessly distilling and rearranging. The work invites a questioning of how objects and images first gather, and resonate within us, a query that has become all the more relevant within the context of the digital age, that which is now characterised by an interminable visual immersion. Sze’s fractured and fleeting imagery directly recalls the overlay and overlap of the collective digital feed, a nod to how we experience images in the twenty-first century. In this sprawling hoard of material and message, Sze provides a visual preamble to her installation upstairs. Images in Debris (2018), relies on the visual grammar of her ‘paintings’, yet demonstrates a heightened dedication to the manipulation of space and light. Serving as a duplication of her own studio space, it is here that Sze’s adherence to the domestic becomes more clear, a structure that is inclusive of toilet roll, drink cans, house plants, and a jar of Hellman’s, as well as much of the images and strips of colour that can be found amongst the canvases. In admittance to the artist’s own studio, we are offered the vestiges of a narrative, that which concedes the domestic conventions of the artist herself. This medley of object and image however, as much reflects the anxious mind-mapping of a masturbatory conspiracy theorist, than it does the life of an artist. 

Much like downstairs, the installation is delineated by shifts in colour, form, and texture, yet these terrains are further dramatised by the play of light issued from an array of video projectors set amongst the artist’s belongings. Unsurprisingly, the video loops depict the banal and straightforward; rippling waters, a smouldering fire, and geological patterning, serving to highlight the organic rootedness of her work, further implied by her devotion to the agrarian hues of greens, browns and blues. Moving images are enhanced by both assorted mirrors and pieces of paper, that serve to capture and then throw back up coloured projections, generating a feeling of disorientation that is part and parcel of the artworks sensory experience. In this room Sze demonstrates an astonishing ability to manipulate and exhibit light within a crowded space, playing off the density of some materials, against the transparency of others. 

In the artist’s reliance on both material objects and digital imagery, there is an apparent tension between the material and the virtual, a sense that is reflected in the tensity between the visual anarchy of the gallery space, and the visual quietude of the gallery garden. Images in Debris rides on the coattails of this apprehension, existing in defiance of the space, as opposed to in harmony with it, a seditious juxtaposition that circumscribes the entire exhibition.