There is a kind of comfort in the solidity of sculpture. Traditionally, source materials were chosen with their relative imperishability in mind. Enduring in the midst of change, sculpture as a medium was employed to represent the most ephemeral of attributes. It’s no accident that oft times the term “sculpture” and “monument” can be used synonymously to refer to the same object. More durable than memory, yet built to remind. And just as a sculpture can fix time for us physically, it can serve to freeze any number of qualities we admire that are subject to eventual eradication: youth, beauty, strength. While appreciating Venus rendered, we can regard her with an Ozymandian smirk.
Encountering James Sansing’s Unified Theory at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art, I found my admiration for the installation grow by degrees as I walked through the space. Facing the doorway is a flat plane suspended from the ceiling. Layers of cement and fabric peel off its surface, exposing the mesh of wire beneath. Draperies connect it with a box affixed to the ceiling and one on the floor.
I’m distracted by stacked cubes near the window. Their forms are slightly depressed as if they were filled with air and subsequently deflated. Turning around again I find that what I had thought was just a suspended canvas is in fact an enormous block, all its faces exhibiting the same traces of manufactured decay. By slow degrees the connections between the pieces grow in significance. Closer inspection of the ceiling reveals that it is studded with many cubes of various sizes aside from the one cobwebbed to the block near the entrance. Some are so small as to be easily missed. A few dangle from thin wires.
Rather than personifying any particular characteristic, Unified Theory seems like an abstraction capturing something more elusive. The most concrete image that came to mind was that of a cave system: dripping water building up to form elaborate shapes out of the calcite residue, but the act of building nearly imperceptible without a conceptual handle on vast stretches of time outside of our direct experience. But I was also reminded of Miro’s The Birth of the World. Neither are a representation of any particular event but symbolize using their own vocabularies a process, or the concept of becoming. The individual elements of Sansing’s work give the impression that you are watching the development of both growth and decay simultaneously. While classical works esteem human traits by denying their fleeting nature, Unified Theory is a view of the continuum, stretching out in either direction.