Andrew Sabin

Henry Moore Studio

You’re unlikely to find a sign saying “Do not touch” next to an installation by Andrew Sabin. Sabin’s in the business of creating physical obstacles that have to be pushed past, slipped through, stumbled over, or climbed. His last big installation, The Sea of Sun, 1992, was a heaving labyrinth, its “walls” made from rows of chains suspended from the ceiling and imprinted with colored imagery: walking into it was like entering a Byzantine church that had been built from banks of seaweed. Sabin’s reeducation of the senses continues in his sequel to The Sea of Sun, The Open Sea, only this time the experience takes place three meters above ground.

Dean Clough was once the biggest carpet factory in the world, but now its buildings have been reborn as industrial and business units. Since 1989, the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust has used one of these buildings as a project space for site-specific installations. Sabin’s is one of the most impressive commissioned thus far, since he has reengineered it entirely, slicing it in two by constructing a false floor made from tubular steel bars mounted on hundreds of black pillars. The whole structure, which recalls those used to house cattle, weighs in at twenty-five tons.

As you enter the Studio, you climb up some stairs and walk out onto the checkerboard false floor. It is impossible to move around without tottering because of the spacing of the bars on the grid, and because their alignment keeps changing. On the far side, steps lead down to ground level, but even here it’s hard to walk with confidence through the irregularly spaced forest of pillars. The piece’s title suggests that Sabin sees it as some kind of pier or promenade, but it would have to be a distinctly unstable one. With all the black bars set against the white gallery walls, you feel as though you have been trapped inside a three-dimensional Op-art piece.

The structure also has two mechanomorphic objects lodged in it, projecting both above and below the false floor. One is an amorphous blob, made of wire net, that looks as though it crash-landed, like a meteor. The placement of the second—a C-shaped tower, also made from networks of wire, extending vertically from floor to ceiling—seems less effective. One person at a time can squeeze inside this cage, which contains miniature cross-sections of landscapes stacked one on top of the other. The implication is that the entire structure is a research station for the study and systemization of nature, ourselves included.

These two ancillary elements have perhaps been insufficiently integrated into the structure: they appear a bit isolated, and in another incarnation it might have been as well to have more of them. Nonetheless, Sabin’s work is always intriguing, and it is that rare thing—interactive art that is genuinely provocative.

James Hall