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Review: Sarah Sze, Tilting Planet at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

Before you are allowed to enter this roped off exhibit, the assistant hands a friendly laminated warning which tells you to tread carefully. I hand mine back to the BALTIC helper, smiling.  Walking into a Sarah Sze installation is like stepping into an unfamiliar city. Sure, there is a whole lot to enjoy but take a wrong turn and things could turn nasty. Little districts of upturned screws and pins stand beside rivers of bright blue wool, fingers of which curl around white pillars, seemingly sewn into the very fabric of the 1950's Flour Mill's reconstructed walls. The scale of effort put into this work is baffling. Sze first thought about objects in terms of trajectories (when she dropped her shopping down the stairs at college) which means one can only imagine what hysteric mess all this stuff would make dropped from the top staircase at BALTIC. Or the viewing platform complete with kittiwakes who busily make their own droppings.

Sze makes the disposable and temporary at once architectural, permanent and somehow useful. Though the overall purpose is never revealed, the sense of a chain reaction between each piece is ever present from the inner viewing gallery.

A bag of unknown grey matter hangs from a single string. A fan blows a piece of paper that flails noisily every so often like a fish out of water. On the topic of fish, Sze has wiped clean a lightly crinkled white polystyrene tray that once held fish and chips, slicing out an uncanny cod skeleton. Sze takes the chaos of a landfill landscape and organizes it with a fresh sense of order. Disorder is pieced back together to create an uncanny system of Lilliputian proportion.

Blades of grass and tree branches shoot out from a wooden floor like an abandoned house that the wild has reclaimed. Lines of pins are upturned just so, just threatening your toes enough to curl, making you conscious of the plastics and leather around your foot. Grains of salt (or is it sugar?) are poured in neat, considered mounds like vast piles of limestone put through Mike's TV in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here, organic and non-organic materials play together to entwine and repel their familiar uses. Strings crawl along the floor like creeping ivy. Architectural shells are built entirely from matchsticks. A potted house plant is crudely masking taped to a wall. Mobile phones and iPods complete with headphones are cut from white cardboard and laid, just so in the same bright white of handmade skulls and bones. A small pair of scissors are cut from the same material. We start to get the joke. A gentle nudge towards our excessive lifestyles and wasteful disposal of packaging? Perhaps. But there are larger things at work here. Sze creates a solar system from spirals of wool and paper cups. By shrinking buildings, we get an idea of not only the fragility and temporal nature of urban culture but of time itself. All the things that matter today won't matter tomorrow.

Piles of hotel soaps make walls, street lights are full sized desk lamps. And though the landscape is in miniature, edged by boundaries laid out in tape measures, it is we who are taken down to size. You can step over this mini metropolis and realise your part in the ecology of the world. Because in this fragile city, the consumer becomes Godzilla. Roar.



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