Harmony in Several Hundred Parts

The artist Sarah Sze uses everything from Q-tips to living plants

2003 MacArthur "Genius Award" recipient Sarah Sze's Second Means of Egress is two storeys tall. Materials include matches, Q-Tips, tacks, elecrtical wire, batteries, plants, tiles, and glue. / Image courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery

“Sarah’s pieces are generally commissioned for a specific space. She builds a kind of skeleton in her studio, but there is a great deal of work that happens on site. Her installations are extraordinarily labour-intensive. The piece she did for the Whitney took five people working twenty-one full days to set up. If there are living components of an installation, like plants, you have to take care of them and change the water.

“There hasn’t been any breakage. The structure is more stable than you’d think. Things are glued down; they’re not just hooked in. If you imagine a painter with a whole palette of paints, she has a palette of materials, small things. She composes with them, placing and adjusting. Sarah can do unusual things with objects, like taking Styrofoam plates and carving a reptile skeleton out of it. In her work, there are all these common-place items we normally overlook. She brings them together, reconstitutes them, and changes the way we look at the world around us.”

Debra Singer