Fred Sandback’s sculptures are elegant to walk around, delicate to be with. They put the body into a state of heightened expectancy, like being dressed for dinner. It’s impossible to look at a Sandback sculpture and not imagine an encounter around or within it. In this sense his spaces are anthropomorphic, made in relation to the body, and can be occupied by bodies. The sculptures are relational, inviting you to step through. They are encounters with nothing, sculptures that dwell on the question of emptiness, and how to represent it. The lines create the illusion of mass, of solidity, yet are perhaps the emptiest sculptures ever made.
It is surprising how powerful a piece of string can be at dividing up space. The illusion of a plane, like an invisible pane of glass, disappears as soon as you step across the threshold of the string. The strings are different colours and neatly run from ceiling to floor, or off the wall, or across the wall and floor. They are coloured yarn, acrylic or elastic cord, that draw a perfect straight line through space.
Sandback’s sculptures are intimate and empty. Their vacancy – there is always nothing at their centre – makes for an open encounter with the audience. The atmosphere his work creates is laid back, relaxed, but full of mystery. Some of the sculptures make one want to dance around them, others to walk straight through them. They demand a heightened self consciousness, an awareness of where you are stepping, whose line of vision you are in. Sandback’s sculptures are perfect places for adults to encounter their own exclusion from each other.
What is impressive about the work that has been brought together for this show is how varied in feel each separate sculpture is. They each seem to have a different emotional register, a different subject being addressed. The colour of the yarn can’t help but give away something of the emotional register. Sometimes, as with the triangles made across corners, you want to step into them, often with one other person. Their tone in this sense is quite romantic.
The sculptures seem to instill a poise in the audience. They also ask metaphysical questions: when is a thing not a thing? The something-out-of-nothing effect is almost magical. Form is made to exist so tenuously – in the spaces between two strings – on the cusp of not existing. The sculptures seem to point to the fourth dimension in that they unfold in time as you move around them.
Sandback is a minimalist, but a minimalist intimiste – his works are not brutalist in the way Richard Serra’s are for example. Interior pieces, they heighten atmosphere through creating boundaries rather than breaking them. They awaken our sensitivity to edges – because the edge is all that they are. Other minimalists seemed more content to present material facts, whereas Sandback’s material is absent, an absent presence. Sandback’s material could be said not to be string, but air. His work demonstrates an allegiance to bounding the void.
Because the centre of Sandback’s work is empty, it asks nothing of the viewer, this frees the viewer up to ask questions, to start a dialogue. It’s the essence of friendliness, to not impose oneself, to always teeter on the brink of revelation. Sandback’s sculpture draws the viewer in to an exquisite illusion -that what appears to be solid is in fact empty, and vice versa. Boundaries materialise and dematerialise, space is sliced by screens that are not there.
Sandback’s sculptures are delicate barricades. This exhibition is the perfect place to encounter a stranger, or better still to dwell in empty space. To see a Sandback sculpture is to see a void described, to experience a conception of space as effervescent as the shadow on a sundial.