Fred Sandback

Consisting of a few pieces, or even only a single stretched wool thread, Fred Sandback’s works fundamentally redefine the perceptual coordinates of sculpture, and yet do so in a thoroughly quiet way. Traditional sculpture requires a total loss of the perceiving body, by its referential structure and embodiment of different levels of reality, or it demands the existential confrontation with a nonreferential object (as in Richard Serra’s work), involving the viewer in a linear polarity of body versus object, with the object always dominant. Sandback’s decorporealized sculptures, however, shift the focus of interest to the viewer’s experience as a process and an activity.

The two-dimensional, linear material of the wool threads, with which Sandback has been working for 20 years, allows sculpture to exist as a line (a thread), as a surface (between the threads), or as space (among several threads)—but not as object. Precisely because the works present no mass, no volume, and no boundaries to divide the space of the sculpture from the rest of the space or to separate the sculpture from the viewer, they suspend a frontal perception of an object and postulate, instead, a lateral, spatialized, perceptual experience. The term “pedestrian space,” in which the exhibition space, the sculpture, and the viewer all coexist, describes a situation fundamentally defined by the open structure of this work and the high degree of viewer mobility required to experience the sculpture.

Sandback’s central piece here, Untitled (8 part vertical construction), 1992—with its eight threads stretched vertically from ceiling to floor, a highly complex work compared with the others—demonstrates the artist’s primary concern: to get at the totality of a situation with the most economic of sculptural means. The four pairs of threads, distinguished by color and breadth of spatial interval, achieve this phenomenological totality by their particular constellation, a crisscrossing of virtual spaces (not just imaginable between two threads but in some cases sensually palpable) that creates a structured though not definable spatial order. Such an order can only very gradually be experienced by walking through the work’s countless pathways. Sandback’s sculpture neither derives from the givens of a particular space nor takes possession of the space; rather, it coexists with it by virtue of its open structure, becoming a catalyst for the viewer’s movements in space. The underlying concept of space is not of an enclosed void but is something experienced from within; it envelopes the body, making the phenomenologically wholistic situation possible in which work, perceiving subject, and space inseparably fuse.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.