Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Four Sculptures on the Top Floor of Tate Modern

There is much more to the current exhibition of Saloua Raouda Choucair’s work at the Tate than just four sculptures. Her geometric paintings are evocative of traditional Islamic design and yet are curiously contemporary and her nude studies are colourful, vibrant and patterned, yet unremittingly flat and slyly redolent of recognisably famous compositions; however, in the case of this blog post, there are four sculptures I would like to focus upon, three of which are Choucair’s.

Poem Wall, 1963-5

Poem Wall (1963-5) is a grey-white wooden structure, a jigsaw-like assemblage of white forms. Its aspiration is to be a white rectangle, a modernist trope, but its component parts don’t quite fit together as they should. Its irregular segments leave gaps, and through the Poem Wall the grey-painted Tate wall is visible.

The segments are balanced but not in line; some jut further out from the wall than others. The impression is given that there is something missing or misplaced and that the piece isn’t meant to look like this, except of course, it is. Made one year later, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (1966) is on show a few rooms down as part of the Tate’s ongoing Structure and Clarity display. If it were propped on its side – a wall instead of a floor – it wouldn’t be so dissimilar to Choucair’s sculpture. An off-white, slightly imperfect rectangle, its simple, tessellating, firebrick-based form betrays a similar sense of jigsaw-like possibility; it is, after all, the last of eight variations.

The Carl Andre comparisons cannot, however, end here, for the next sculpture of Choucair’s Infinite Structure (1963-5) is made from orangey-yellow tufa stone breezeblocks. Rather than a grid, they are arranged in two unequal stacks.

Infinite Structure, 1963-5

Circles, squares and rectangles are carved into and hollowed out of the surface of the porous rock. The remaining shapes appear functional, even architectural. The blocks might be aspirational, modernist doll’s houses with portal windows and open-plan rectangular rooms, repeating patterns coupled with deliberate visual mismatches.

Each block begins as the same basic form, and in each case a variation of the same set of shapes has been cut from it. Hundreds more variations could be made, each distinct from the last. Unlike Andre’s piece, which has an imposed set of limitations, the structure of the stack theoretically allows an infinite number of additions and arrangements.

Variation VIII, 1966

Here lies the difference between these sculptural works of Choucair and Andre's Variations: the distinction between a measurable and an immeasurable potential. In Choucair's sculpture Trajectory of an Arc (1972-4) an arcing silhouette is formed by a web of straight lines; nylon thread woven through an upright steel frame and a plexiglass disc. The work's profile is transient, curling and swelling with the spectator's shifting vantage point. It is ever transforming, recreating itself as another sculpture. Where Andre creates real and measurable potential through simple set structures, Choucair's more complex formal arrangements create a vision of something infinite.

Travis Riley

Saloua Raouda Choucair
Tate Modern, London SE1
17 April - 20 October 2013

Structure and Clarity Display
Tate Modern, London SE1

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