I am simply swept away by Sarah Sze’s visionary landscape Titling Planet. As I arrive at the foot of the installation, and as my eyes take in the breathtaking spectacle, I have upon me that dumb look of glee, of wonderment, of being enchanted by something magical and otherworldy. I think of Hiram Bingham, the US explorer who first discovered the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911. I wonder what he thought… I know what I think; it’s more a meditation really, a philosophical question that asks “what magic have I unearthed in finding this city?” It’s the sentiment I carry with me as I step into another world.
It’s worth noting that this is something of a surreal Alice in Wonderland experience with the dramatic shift in scales of the space we occupy. For example, as one steps into the lofty Baltic amidst the backdrop of gargantuan human constructions like the Sage Gateshead and the Millennium Bridge, we are all but the size of ants, yet in immediate contrast, as one enters into Sze’s installation, we are suddenly transformed into shaky Godzilla size giants. It is a little disorientating at first, wobbly like a child taking its first steps, but soon enough, a calm equilibrium is achieved.
It is a sparse environment pocketed by a concentration of what I suppose are settlements of life that perhaps started off modesty before growing and growing into the rich and colourful metropolises that they now are. All are interlinked, connected by roads, by trade, by life itself, the movement of peoples carved in the land they journey upon, an interdependence that now binds them as one.
And then, as we get closer to the objects we are again presented with an alternative take, a revelation of the most profound kind, another world of existence, an impossible language that is not earthly, the reality of what we perceive making way for the otherwise ridiculous, and a hallucination that is both frightful and enlightening. That which are the bones of an animal or some higher being are elegant paper constructions, that which are vast transparent skyscrapers are collections of different sized plastic bottles, that which are roads are pieces of string, and that which are marvelous Anish Kapoor style luminous beacons are nothing extraordinary but simple desk lights. The list goes on from a consuming mountain that is cleverly pieced together by overlapping sheets of A4 paper, forests which are in fact clusters of synthetic plants, and vast swarms of agricultural fields which are the much varied coloured cards of paint pots you can get a DIY store. Nothing is quite what you think it is, and in essence, the basic mundane paraphernalia that surrounds us in both our home and office environments develop personalities and functions beyond what is expected from them. They pulse with a heart; with a mysterious meaning.
Sze tells me that it’s about the moment of time, it’s about the past and the future, and in some ways it is like a forensic or archeological site in that exploration, digging, and investigation is required to understand or get closer to the importance of it.
Much like the narrative of a book, the installation is built in a strategic way, with each construction site leading onto the next in a deliberate and thought out manner. This gives the viewer unbridled interaction with the art, and as Sze informs me, it allows for you to actually travel into the work as opposed to merely viewing it as you would a painting. This greater interface with Tilting Planet is intrinsic in it’s presentation, as although all art is about discovering your own meaning of what is offered – as well as the artists own motivations – here we must literally travel from start to end to capture the quintessence of the work. You just wouldn’t “get” the piece if viewed behind a barrier much in the same way that although one might read the last few pages of a novel to conclude the mystery in as swift manner as possible, what is thus sacrificed is the story itself – it’s integrity. Titling Planet is about enjoying time itself, to linger, to think, to savour the delights of what is around us, for too often than not, we are truly blind to the world we live in.
Moreover, there is a very human sentiment attached to the work. Nothing ever lasts from the stars in the sky to the trees that give us air. Every great civilization will fall, great ideologies will come to pass, and that for each one of us who comes into being will die. Death is very much part of the human experience of life whether we accept it or not. Everything so they say, will come to pass.
With Tilting Planet we are posed with a number of options as to which point in its life it is at. Is it at the very elixir of its being, a hub of vibrant activity, a city of lights bubbling with as Sze puts it, “frenetic energy” or is it the remnants of something that we will never truly experience, of a way of life that once was, or is it in its infancy, the early years of something that will begin to develop organically without adhering to convention, or is it a vision of utopia, a city waiting to be discovered before it disappears or a city yet to be realized?
Truthfully, it is hard to say, and therefore it is for each one of us to judge for ourselves, which is even more poignant as the very idea of its “precarious structure” means that there are no second chances in revisiting this space. Sometime soon what once was will no longer be. All that will be left will be the memories, and the desire to replicate something that at its very heart is pure and human and peaceful.
Article published at Isolationist