Fig. 1 Sze, Triple Point Pendulum, 2012, Mixed Media, various dimensions

Sarah Sze’s work addresses the proliferation of diverse information and multifarious objects which dominate contemporary life.

Sze incorporates elements of painting, architecture, and installation within her sculptures through which she investigates the value we place on objects and how objects ascribe meaning to the places and times we inhabit.

It occurs to me that Sze’s sculptures operate in 3D in similar ways to Hadid and Mehretu’s explosive 2D paintings and drawings.

In the images below we can see similarities with the early architectural paintings of Zaha Hadid (Figure 2) and the more global scope and concerns evident in the work of Julie Mehretu (Figure 3).

Fig. 2 Sze, Mural, 2nd Avenue Subway,14,000 sq feet of tile

Fig. 3 Sze, Day, 2005, Offset lithography, silkscreen, 38 1/4 x 71 1/4 inches, Sheet: 39 x 71 3/4 inches

Sze employs a constellation of everyday materials in her work ranging from found objects, plants, photographs and sculptures thereby creating vast encyclopaedic landscapes. Her work often transforms the architecture in which they are constructed by colonizing overlooked and peripheral spaces.

Sze sculptures record indexical trances of the experimental nature of her arts practice as it ebbs and flows – sometimes seemingly suspended in space; apparently quantifying and organising the universe in a personal system of order. Thus, Sze’s sculptures appear to represent both the dismantling of order and reassembling of an equally complex new order.

Sze, Measuring Stick, 2015, mixed media, various dimensions

In the video: Measuring Stick (see link below), in which Sze discusses her work of the same name, she refers to Charles and Ray Eames influential film Power of 10 which played visually with the idea of measuring time and space by moving rapidly from micro to macro perspectives of the world.

In Measuring Stick, Sze makes a work which measures time and space through the moving image. Everything in the sculpture provides a measure of how we orient ourselves in space and time e.g. data live from NASA measuring the distance to the Voyager which is farthest measurable distance we have ever been able to measure.

The sculpture is arranged on a mirror, incorporates flowing water and videos of moving images projected onto small pieces of paper, so the whole piece suggests fragility and delicately shifting movement and transfomation.

Intention: explore my response to Essex University in the form of a 3D sculpture. An additional challenge would be to make the work kinaesthetic, or if static the work could incorporate projected moving images thereby providing additional dimensions and movement.

I contacted the university to ask whether they have a bank of lost property I could acquire. It would have been fascinating to make a sculpture out of disregarded or lost personal items. However, they do not have a bank of unclaimed items so my sculptures will be made from both found and made objects.


Mehretu, Black Ground (deep light), ink and acrylic on canvas, 2006, 182.9 x 243.8 cm

In contrast to Zaha Hadid, for whom architecture was the driving passion and focus of her work, for Julie Mehretu, architecture – and compressed urban environments – are a point of departure for dynamic, explosive forays into her imagination.

The images Mehretu generates are highly complex rational maps. They do not demonstrate the violent aftermath of a destructive nuclear explosion but they do emphasis a ferocious force capable of separating out each and every component of the material world.

Mehretu appears to both reference and blow the boundaries of the dynamism of the Futurists, the geometric abstraction of Malevich and the scale of Abstract Expressionist colour field painting.

In her intensely worked canvases, Mehretu creates new narratives using abstracted images of cities, histories, wars and geographies. Her complex and frenetic mark making provides a way of signifying social agency – hard won control.

Mehretu’s canvases overlay and juxtapose architectural features such as columns, façades and porticoes with geographical schema such as charts, building plans and city maps and architectural renderings.

Mehretu presents her convoluted maps from multiple perspectives – aerial, cross-section and isometric. Her paintings present a vortex of visual events in which gridded cities are flattened and blown apart as though snatched up by a nuclear wind. The fact that the urban spaces are seen as grids rather than sealed blocks as they would appear in a photograph means that we can seen through physical time. See the video link below in which – for Out of Sync Mehretu elaborates on her painting Beloved (Cario), 2013 in their Art in Focus series available on You Tube:


Mehretu’s explorations of time via palimpsests of history – including geological time and a phenomenology of the social – draw us into a dynamic visual articulation of contemporary experience; a depiction of social behavior and the psychogeography of space.

Psychogeography is associated with the European Situationist International (SI) organization of social revolutionaries made up of artists, intellectuals, and political theorists from 1957 to its dissolution in 1972. Guy Debord defined psychogeography in 1955 as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (Sadie, 1992, The Most Radical Gesture)

Mehretu, Mural,, 2009, Goldman Sachs, Mahattan http://www.nbcews.com

When discussing her work, Mehretu explains her impulse to explore psychogeographies (springing from her movement from Ethiopia – the country of her birth – to her home in New York and all places and periods of time which arrest her political, social and creative imagination):

I am interested in ways to picture or map [civilization] … weaving in and out of functioning, resistance, understanding… I am interested in the potential of ‘psychogeographies’, which suggests that within an invisible and invented creative space the individual can tap a resource of self-determination and resistance… This impulse is a major generating force in my drawing and my larger conceptual project as a painter. (Mehretu, 2003, Drawing into Painting, p. 13 – 14)

I found this statement fascinating as when I reflected on my decision to base my current project on Essex University, I thought about the following ‘psychogeographies’ which have added rich and complex nuances to my work:

Memories – new personal experiences of people – tutors, lecturers, people who became friends (I gained my first degree at Essex);

Memories and renewed fondness of place – built environment (reinforced by attending lectures celebrating the 50 th anniversary of the earliest buildings – 1965, New Brutalism – the paternoster lift in the distinctive library I love with views over the lake – silence, concentration, intellectual challenge, access to numerous ideas about human life and the world we inhabit and continue to explore and thereby create. The Hex restaurant, the lecture theatre block, the sports hall in which I sat examinations);

Fondness for the landscape – Wivenhoe Park – (in 1816 John Constable was commissioned to paint Wivenhoe Park by his patron Major-General Rebow) – lakes, trees, wildlife – especially the gaggles of geese walking possessively across the landscape a reminder of the Theropod dinosaurs from which they evolved during the Mesozoic Era;

Memories one year course (Continuing Studies) in Psychoanalysis – Feud and Jung – questions about self, socialization, society;

Ongoing Mythology Reading Group – I began to draw comparisons between mythological quests and journeys with university courses – personal, time-limited quest/challenge for a specific, socially recognized purpose – hardship/deferred gratification;

Contemporary architecture – palimpsest and reconfiguration (e.g. Silberrad Building partially blocks the view of the lake from the library; one lake was redesigned and is partially built over; an iconic stairway in the library (nick named “The Cloisters”) was removed to create space for a new vision of the library extension – plans met with huge protest, media coverage and failed application to get the stairwell listed to prevent obliteration); and

Reminders when researching the university buildings that in the 1960s and 80s Essex University was synonymous with radical student protest and that their unrest was associated with the Brutalist architecture of the 1960s in which they lived and studied.

The Albert Slowman Library, Essex University, Photograph by Gillian Lock-Bowen, 2016

For a discussion of the significance of the architecture of Essex University on the experience of its students between Professor Jules Lubbock and Dr William Whyte, click on the following link:

Mehretu, Beloved (Cairo), ink and paint on canvas, 2013, 10 x 24 ft

During Mehretu’s elaboration of Beloved (Cairo) , 2013, she explains that the reason she works within the language of abstraction is that there is no clear image of what perspective is; it is more about an in between place which is made manifest when abstract marks overlay architectural drawings (which are presented in multiple perspectives):

Instead of just the architectural language delineating the space, the characters and swarms actually develop and create the space. The architectural language serves as a marker to the type and the history of the space, but the characters make the space and break it down. They actually complicate the space in the painting. For example, a bunch of dashes or marks will enter the painting a certain way and then another group of marks enters it another way to completely contradict that. (Mehretu, interview with Lawrence Chua, Bomb 91, Spring 2005.)

I identify strongly with Mehretu’s experience of mark making as equivalent to creating characters which appear to express their intent as they develop and during the evolution of a drawing. For example, I feel compelled to situate marks of a specific type in areas on the ground where they intend to roam and inhabit; or I have a sense that they insist on being brought from the background to the foreground thereby over writing other marks which gives rise to a new and insistent dialogue between these competing, or co-operative characters, which begin to populate and determine the ground upon which they play out their palimpsestic performance.


Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, until 12th February, 2017

Fig. 1

The Peak site plan, Hong-Kong, 1982-1983, 11038 x 4961 cm, Zaha Hadid

I was keen to see this exhibition of Hadid’s early paintings and drawings as they combine features which are both architectural and abstract which coincides elegantly with my arts practice project this year: Exploring Abstraction from Architecture.

Figure 2 below exemplifies Curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s description of Hadid as a:

… glowing admirer of Russian Constructivism, she made paintings influenced by Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko. Among the many lesser known facets of her work are the free calligraphy drawings in which she often explored the ideas that would later be transformed into architecture. Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2016, Curator Serpentine https://www.artforum.com/passages/id=59951

Fig. 2

Horizontal Tektonic, Malevich’s Tektonic, London, 1977, acrylic on cartridge, 128 x 89 cm, Zaha Hadid

Hadid explained that one result of her interest in Malevich was her decision to employ painting as a “design tool”:

I found the traditional system of architectural drawing to be limiting and was searching for a new means of representation. Studying Malevich allowed me to develop abstraction as an investigative principle. Zaha Hadid, 2014.


I enjoyed the irony of discovering the statement above as I was starting from the opposite positon i.e. exploring architectural principles as a means of investigating abstraction. During my visit, I was particularly struck by Hadid’s mastery of perspective and proportion in her vast sweeping cityscapes.

Fig. 3 The Peak Blue Slabs, 1982 – 1983, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid

During a close examination of this canvas I tracked the shadows of supposed buildings sloping diagonally into the bay, darkening the road meandering from the sea to the mountains and making vertical streaks on parallel buildings.

The paradox created by the sharply precise geometry of the city reaching northward towards the wider angles and broader sweep of the mountains, produces a pleasing sense of contrast between the urban sprawl upwards and the mountain range which looms still higher upwards towards locations which would provide superb panoramic views over the landscape, city, bay and still further across the water.

Intriguingly, there is a magnificent building design – extreme top right – the foundations of which would be ancient rock. Like a series of cantilevered Zs, the downward pointing structure is as bold and balanced as the vertical slivers of high-rise buildings at the water’s edge.

Fig. 4 Zaha Hadid design, Serpentine Pavillion, 2000

In 2000 Zaha Hadid designed the inaugural pavilion in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Series; and until her death in 2016, she was a Trustee of the Serpentine Gallery for 20 years.

Hadid’s intimacy with the Serpentine Sackler Gallery now exhibiting her early paintings and drawings extends to both the exhibition space and the display table which she designed to protect and display her sketch books.

Fig. 5

Fig.6 Zaha Hadid Architects, 2013

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is housed in an 1805, Grade II listed building (The Magazine); a former gunpowder store in The Royal Park of Kensington Gardens. In 2013 Zaha Hadid Architects created the undulating, white canopied extension at the side of the building to create additional space for a restaurant, gallery and social space.

In his review of the evolution of Zaha Hadid’s work from the 1970s to 2008, Lebbeus Woods (Drawn into Space: Zaha Hadid, 2008, Architectural Design, Vol 78, Issue 4, July/August, 2008, pages 28-35) tracks the shifts in Hadid’s work from Suprematist-informed fragmentations in the 1980s to a more contemporary fluidity and complex curvilinearity as demonstrated in the Figures 7 and 8 below:

Fig. 7

The World (89 Degrees), ,1989, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid Photograph: a section of the original image together with reflections of photographer and visitors, Gillian Lock-Bowen, 2017

Fig. 8

Metropolis, 1988, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid,

Woods states that the key to understanding these paintings is fragmentation:

Animated bits and pieces of buildings and landscapes fly through the air. The world is changing. It breaks up, scatters and reassembles in unexpectedly new, yet uncannily familiar forms…Fragmentation can be philosophical, too. It can be systematic and not merely chaotic or accidental…Only when established forms are broken up are they susceptible to change. Woods, 2008, pp 31-32.

While examining the content of the exhibition of Hadid’s early painting and drawings at The Serpentine, I realised that her vision was not simply about beautiful buildings, but also visions of new cities and radically changing city and landscapes.

Coincidently, I visited Rome a year ago; a city renowned for its ancient social, political, cultural and architectural history. Without knowing the architect was Hadid, I walked around the outside of the Maxxi Museum late one evening.

Fig. 9 Maxxi Museum, Rome, 2009, Zara Hadid Architects

Fig. 10 Maxxi Museum, Rome, Design, 2009, Zaha Hadid

My Italian friends told me that the building is controversial; it certainly introduces a radically new form of architecture to the City.

I imagined that my visit to Rome would open-up many new perspectives and was keen to get a sense of at the scale and splendour of the ancient Roman sites – vast ruins exposing the foundations of the social and political history of modern Rome.

The Maxxi Museum revealed that there are contemporary architectural visionaries in Rome and that it is a city with the capacity (if not the capital) to build a powerful contemporary city of stunning, beauty and efficiency.

Woods (2008) also notes that the fragmentation evident in Hadid’s early paintings and drawings is inherently democratic involving choice. I felt dazed by amount of decision making evident in Hadid’s complex, large-scale drawings which consist of millions of tiny convoluted or stand alone choices; the outcomes of which contribute to her overarching – magnificently ambitious – vision of new worlds as seen in Figure 11.

Fig. 11 Changsha Meixihu International Culture Art Centre, acrylic on canvas, 1134 x 949 cm, 2017, Zaha-Hadid

As Hadid’s work evolves it appears to move away from a sense of fragmentary angles and channels shattering and slicing through space – a radical breaking away from – towards a sense of curvaceous fluidity. The sense of explosion moves from forms to events moving energetically and cohere at the level of vision.

Like the universe, Hadid’s drawings contain the promise of infinite expansion.

Upon reflection, what I have learnt from this exhibition which I will take forward into my current project is:

Drawing is a means of filtering and locating – e.g. filtering out habits, locating pockets of energy vying for expression.

Action: I intend to draw, analyse and make decisions before I paint my next series of abstracted images.