Mia Westerlund (1978)

“Mia Westerlund at Sable-Castelli,” Artists Review, 1:16 (May 30, 1978), p. 9.

Mia Westerlund at Sable-Castelli

Mia Westerlund’s recent work on exhibition at the Sable-Castelli Gallery plays with the denial of the medium through the visual illusion inherent in the relation of line to mass. These works have more to do with the three-dimensional projection of a drawn perspectival mass than with sculpture as mass qua mass. One wonders whether Westerlund’s habit of processing her sculpture through carefully worked perspectival drawings of the pieces directed her to this new work. Her previous sculpture has always treated the surface of the piece as something created and worked like a drawing rather than as an attribute and constituent of sculptural mass.

On first seeing the work as a group one is struck by the effect of a number of sectioned masses presented in a theatrical situation. One wonders where this has been seen before, and, of course, one thinks of Brancusi’s sectioned masses but also of Robert Morris’s proposal of a sculpture for Ottawa, which was shown as a drawing at the Sable-Castelli Gallery. In this drawing Morris depicted a group, a number of stones, some of which form a figure due to aligned sectional planes. Although Westerlund’s pieces do not necessarily form a group, their collective manifestation only heightens the inherent theatricality of each separate piece. In fact, one questions whether these pieces could function individually or outside of the gallery situation. The oxidized copper surfaces applied to the sectional cuts depend for their effect on spotlights and the exaggerated perspectival lines of the mass, and the worked concrete surface would weaken under a more natural light that does not cut a mass in space as clearly as gallery spotlights.

Each of the sculptures is either a squat mass or a tall vertical column constructed of coloured concrete with top sectional planes, individual sides or vertical slots covered with oxidized copper sheeting that has been forced with acid to turn it green. The sharp indentations, often reversing corners, dramatize the mass as does the colour of the green copper, but they do not reveal much about the interior of the mass, although they are probably an attempt to bring the viewer into the work.

The masses are constructed as if seen in a perverse perspective. The orthogonals and planes are often composed opposite to a geometric mass in true perspective: they seem to usurp the power of the solid mass to assert itself. Perspectival distortion of the mass has a number of effects. The dynamism of the mass unbalances its visual stability, as does the visual distortion of the planes which seem to turn in space with the change of all mass. The sharply-angled sectional planes, emphasized by copper sheeting and lighting further direct the viewer to read the piece as a sequence of two-dimensional visual planes suspended in space on the surface of a mass (they tell nothing of the interiority of mass). Due to these visual distortions there is not much incitement actually to move to investigate the piece as amass in space except out of curiosity. One may approach it, however, to see to what degree the mass separates from the perspectival imposition. The visual so overwhelms the sculptural that one feels that the means of the sculpture is only to support the surface. Both Westerlund’s sculptures and drawings (as drawings and not as studies for sculpture) indicate that she is working with an idea of planer distortion in space rather than working with the medium itself.