Sydney Blum, ICS2018seagrnturqpurp, 2018. Paper chipboard, paint, pencil, and wire, 37 x 41 x 19 in. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Studio 21 Fine Art

Sydney Blum

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Studio 21

After several decades in New York, including 17 years teaching at the Parsons School of Design, Sydney Blum moved to Nova Scotia. Her recent exhibition “Icarus–Colour–Space” (her first solo show in her adopted home) featured five sculptures that seem to float, rippling, in space—like sections of soap bubbles hovering just on this side of corporeality before winking out of existence. At first glance, seen against white walls, they appear without scale and somehow apart from the real world. Though that effect doesn’t survive more in depth inspection, the impression remains. In fact, these objects snap in and out of focus depending on where the eye settles—a disconcerting and fascinating effect of their complex forms and subtle color progressions.

The rigorous construction and persistent materiality come to the fore at close range. Despite being based in computer-developed designs, the realized forms result from a very different kind of digital labor—painstakingly constructed by hand. Hundreds of cardboard “chips,” hand-painted a single color and arranged in chromatic color sequences, are pieced together with six individual twists of wire for each piece. The whole is then wired together onto movable armatures that create the rippling forms. If you peek around the back of Blum’s sculptures, you see the traces of her meticulous process: penciled numbers and letters that record the position of each individual chip before it was wired to its neighbors, documentation that underscores just how physical these objects are.

Based on Blum’s research into such phenomena as color vibrations, the oscillation of light, seismology, and ways that energy is experienced and measured, these works reflect the sort of spectrum we see in images from radio telescopes and other scientific instruments that present light spectra otherwise invisible to our eyes. They are approximations, and as such, their manual construction is all the more appropriate.

The color progressions in each work are fluid and logical—the eye easily follows their shifts across various blues, from pink to yellow, and from violet to pale green. Each colored cardboard chip also carries a black border; together these borders form a grid that overlays the entire composition, creating a visual order that enhances the deceptive logic of the constructions.

Blum took her starting point from the Greek legend of Icarus, who, wearing a pair of wax and feather wings, flew too close to the sun, plummeting to his death as the wax melted. Her works certainly suggest flight, though not so much the physical flight of beating wings as the incorporeal flight of energy waves, of glowing pixels arranging and rearranging themselves in the virtual space of the computer screen. From a distance, they return to a kind of weightlessness and immensity, appearing at once ephemeral and inevitable.