Currently on display at David Zwirner’s London Gallery is a matrix of acrylic yarn evoking an eerie experience that heightens the spectator’s spatial awareness. Across the gallery, colored and blackened fibre is stretched into 3D geometrical forms that carry an uncanny resemblance to a two-dimensional line drawing in mid air. The viewer is literally immersed into the surreal world of Fred Sandback as he challenges our perceptions of dimension and reality.
Sandback, who passed away in 2003, left behind a vibrant legacy of examination into spatial perception. His early interest in string instruments and his creative eye for how form fits with function led him to examine the virtual ‘space’ created by the production of sound. Initial explorations into these concepts were comprised of metal wire and elastic cord, mimicking an instrument’s strings. As his work matured, his medium changed, transitioning to the use of dyed acrylic yarns which allowed Sandbank more malleability concerning color and form.
The artist’s Untitled (sculptural study, six part construction) is a perfect example of how Sandback toyed with a human’s ability to perceive depth. Rectangular outlines of flat, freestanding planes are juxtaposed in a row; each one placed perpendicular to the next. The yarn is blackened to absorb the light and echoes the drawing medium of graphite or charcoal. Utilizing such unusual materials, Sandback creates a parallel between sculpture and drawing, suggesting a distinct irony in his representation of form and space. The viewer is invited to walk around the piece, simultaneously changing the work’s characteristics with even the slightest movement of the eye or slight variation in light. In this way, Sandback’s work is constantly in flux, representing reality as ever-changing and rarely at rest.
Sandback’s Untiled (leaning triangle) reiterates the idea of obscured reality, further pushing our human senses to the edge. He challenges our notions of what is flat and ‘fake’ and what exists in a physical and temporal space. The geometric points appear harsh and untouchable, despite our familiarity with the softness of yarn, and seems to suggest that Sandback’s intentions are those of deception. He makes the implication that we can quite easily be tricked into believing what isn’t actually there, outlining our vulnerability as viewers.
Another piece on display is his Untitled (four part vertical contraction), a set of blue and red yarns hanging vertically from the peak of the ceiling, acting as a focal point for the gallery’s spiral staircase. The work seems to evoke a sense of foreboding and vertigo as the blue fibers give way to a threatening red as the viewer ascends. Acting as a barrier to the opposing side of the gallery, the yarns create a sense of entrapment while appearing paradoxically rigid and assuring.
Fred Sandback’s legacy is not one that will easily be forgotten, and even now, a decade after his death, we are still being challenged by his minimalistic sculptures that dissect the world we acknowledge as real.
– E. Longstaff