‘Surfaces seem to imply that what’s interesting is either in front of them or behind them. Interiors are elusive. You can’t ever see an interior. Like eating an artichoke, you keep peeling away exteriors until there’s nothing left, looking for the essence of something. The interior is something you can only believe in, which holds all the parts together as a whole, you hope… The line is a whole, an identity, for a particular place and time. I assume that this identity can be sensed by others. What I object to in a lot of art is its illustrative quality, the quality of being an execution of an idea. I don’t have an idea first and then find a way to express it. That happens all at once’ (F. Sandback, quoted in Fred Sandback, Munich 1975, pp. 11-12).
Executed in 1968, Untitled (RLR of a Series of Eight Sculptures, Closed Series), is one of the most eloquent examples of Fred Sandback’s early work, and represents one of the last sculptures the artist made with elastic cord. It demonstrates beautifully his remarkably nuanced ability to manipulate space and confound our preconceptions of sculpture as a medium.
In many ways Untitled bears comparison with the work of the great modernist sculptor, architect and visionary Vladimir Tatlin. In Tatlin’s counter-reliefs he started to develop the means by which he was to achieve his ambition to radically synthesize architecture and sculpture. In order to break down the barrier between the two disciplines Tatlin exploited his materials to the full, using novel means of creating tension and suspension to excavate interstitial spaces that forced his audience to re-evaluate the buildings they inhabited. Sandback’s use of the spaces he works in and makes work for is equally innovative, subjecting it to the constant play of revelation and illusion. The lissome cords bifurcate and delineate, however as Sandback says, his work ‘doesn’t take over a space, but rather coexists with it’ (F. Sandback, quoted in H. Kern, Fred Sandback, Munich 1975, p. 12).
It is through his desire to maximize the potential of any space that he works with, and his attentiveness to its particular features, that Sandback is regularly cited as a forerunner for installation art. The artist himself however, maintains that his work can only ever be understood as sculpture – an assertion neatly embodied by the three fluorescent forms of Untitled. The relationship between each element of the work is crucial to understanding its totality; the subtle variations between them create a sense of rhythm and symmetry that would be missing where they to be shown in isolation. As in all of Sandback’s work, Untitled subverts the formal conventions of its medium. Mass, volume and surface are the constituent features of sculpture. Sandback’s achievement is to use the absolute minimum mass – cord that is 0.03 inches in diameter – to describe a volume that is potentially limitless and subject to as many variations as there are angles from which to view the sculpture. In so doing he makes visible the volume that is traditionally hidden inside a sculpture, and renders immaterial the surfaces that would previously be tangible.
Through inviting the viewer to re-configure and expand their awareness of the space they inhabit - their ‘space consciousness’ has Hermann Kern has called it, Sandback invites us to interact with the work physically, optically and conceptually (H. Kern, Fred Sandback, Munich 1975, p. 5). It is this displacement of the creative process into the observation of the work that means Sandback’s sculptures are, metaphorically if not literally, made anew with each fresh encounter.