Works exhibited: String Quintet
Shirazeh Houshiary’s String Quintet weaves together five separate ribbons of steel that climb upwards alongside and around one another in emulation of plant stems whose separate patterns of growth are all dictated by the same movements of the sun. They seem coordinated, brought into visual harmony, by an invisible common goal. Houshiary’s title asks us to translate this invisibility into musical terms, as if the parameters of this monumentally delicate work, with its slender verticality, were equivalent to the visual patterns traced by a group of notes drawn along horizontally within the linear grid of bar lines on a printed page of sheet music. We hear the notes but not the bar lines; we see the freedom of expression in the surging movement of the ribbons of steel, but not the vertical corridor that puts natural limits on their growth. This is in fact a large sculpture in terms of the volume of space that it occupies, yet in visual terms it is tenuous and airy, and relatively insubstantial.
Another source for its sinuous refinement of form might be the translation into visual terms of the emission of sound waves with their varying flow patterns. This is to conceive of a large and heavy sculpture that consists of steel in an apparently very steady state in terms of evanescent pulses of energy. One of the achievements of Houshiary’s work is that this illusion is completely convincing. The material of the work would be resistant to touch, while its structure is protean and elusive. The title of String Quintet is drawn from the world of human invention, while its formal presence in that world seems to have its origins in the most fundamental principles of organic growth and even the underlying laws of energy and matter. There is a resemblance between the approximately spiralling impulse at the heart of many of her two- and three-dimensional works that is clearly reminiscent of the conventional representation of a strand of DNA.