Sara VanDerBeek at the Approach


Where Sara VanDerBeek once photographed sculptures, she now establishes in her new show at the Approach, clear physical distinctions between photographic image and sculptural object. Here she dispenses with a clear progression from one state to another. Instead, she sets up improvised movement by three dancers and then records the formal complexity produced by the shape of bodies articulated by light and the reflective floor of the dance studio. These bodies hold and release energy in a series of assumed poses enabling the artist to build up a compendium of physical expression across the images. Sometimes the figure is cropped leaving only concentrated aspects of limbs and torsos balanced by contrasting details of another dancer’s body being inserted into the photograph. These investigations in black and white illustrate both the pliability and limits of the human body.
Maintaining her interest in process, VanDerBeek has recently made a series of accompanying plaster sculptures in response to the photographs thereby reversing her earlier strategy. Inspired by but not imitating the dancers, these delicately, vertical pieces ascend upwards in stacked, identical blocks which create a concrete unity that the more dynamic and imperfect human body can only aspire to achieve. Assembled across the floor of one room alongside the photographs, these works have a material, craft- like quality employing plaster and white paint. Some of the columns acquire a rhythmical character containing either serrated surfaces and or repeating patterns within the blocks that lead the eye along the entire length of the column. Being artificially lit from above, the sculptures do not cast shadows on the floor, but light does accentuate their textured and undulating nature.
The relationship between photographs and sculptures is clearly orchestrated but it’s the gaps rather than a direct correspondence, which demands attention. An evident divide opens up between the organic nature of the human body and the rigid certainties of the geometric forms in the gallery. So while this project may at first feel rather contrived, it does not simply connect the dancers to the sculptures, but opens up an engaging flow of shape and texture across competing media and subjects.

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