Intentional String Theory (aesthetic with no inside)

Can aesthetic reveal truths? Or is it that when we find truth (an instinctual, fleeting feeling of certain ‘rightness’) we also find aesthetic? I think both are possible, but, at this moment, I feel the urge to state that aesthetic can never be intentional. When we create for aesthetic and aesthetic only, it disappears. It disappears and is replaced by some vulgar representation of truth.

Seeing Fred Sandback’s string sculptures at DIA Beacon strikes me as pure aesthetic because they were not created for the sake of aesthetic, but rather out of a desire for truth. They arrive at aesthetic by way of challenging certain truths about space and geometry, by becoming a physical manifestation of a conceptual paradox. What do I mean? Using taut pieces of string, Sandback makes cartesian forms that stretch across entire rooms, down the long, vertical hallways of  DIA, and all the way to the top of the ceiling. Each piece takes up space, but eludes the actual occupying of it, we feel intensely fulfilled looking at these beautiful shapes, objects, but note the irony–essentially, nothing is there.

One can hardly see these pieces; at a distance, our eyes immediately gravitate toward other works, especially Jean-Lun Moulene’s Body (not literally!). Most of the strings are white or off-white; consciously positioned in response to pre-exisiting walls and lighting so that the awareness of these pieces occurs only once we are upon them, when we are close enough to see what is (and what is not) there.

The aesthetic arises from what is and what is not, it is the experience of viewing, even interacting with the work. What makes DIA so pleasing is the space, we can walk 350 degrees around the Serra’s or Beuys’s and yet, the presence of the Institution is strong. Signs that forbid touching are numerous, our encounter with the work thus remains relegated to the visual experience–save for Sandback whose work we can walk through, over, under….we can utilize almost any preposition in relation to his work simply because it’s not really there.

The string becomes the mediator between the space and the human, the string then is intentionality. According to Sandback, his intention was to “assert a certain place or volume in its full materiality without occupying and obscuring it.” Insanity right?! The quote, ripped from its context sounds like a defiant architectural student, all theory, no practice. But, see, Sanback actually constructs this abstraction, and by constructing it, the work reveals a certain truth.

But what about aesthetic? It’s there, but is it deliberate? I’m tempted to ask what came first, the concept or vision? I think we usually think of these as sharing the same side of the same coin but I’m tempted to call them different sides of the same coin–a kind of Janus face of artistic creation. Vision is just that, it starts with a visual reference; we may not know yet what it means, but we see it, strong and clear. Concept on the other hand starts with a question, a riddle that must be explored. It takes many tries until we find the right way of representing this concept, and even then we most certainly are left unsatisfied. This, I think, is where aesthetic is the strongest, when the visual is born of a question. I think this is why I feel so close to Sandback’s work, because he started by asking many questions, about space, presence, absence. By answering these questions however, he produces even more, so that we are, like these pieces, always occupying something that can never actually be filled.

One Response to “Intentional String Theory (aesthetic with no inside)”
  1. lolita says:

    I remember being scared to walk near/through the space which Sandback’s string created… in fact I think i avoided them. Something about them made me uneasy, especially since they were so hard to detect in comparison to the overwhelming size and amount of other works of art at DIA. Interesting how something so slight caused so much subconscious anxiety in me…

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