Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is known in the Twin Cities and beyond for her culinary writing in the alternative weekly City Pages (for which she’s picked up multiple James Beard prizes). But at home, she’s mom to 17-month-old Asa, who, she writes in an email, “is a big art lover. He’s at the MIA right now with the nanny. Let me know if you want his thoughts on Rembrandt.” Grumdahl wrote a reflection on Sarah Sze’s installation Grow or Die in the Cowles Conservatory, a series of three subterranean chambers crafted from Q-tips, transistors, wires, beakers, and other tiny objects. She’s agreed to share her essay, which first appeared on the blog Open for Design, here.
Someone pointed out to me that the Bean’s new language explosion of what I consider to be very odd words – pinecone, keyhole, grate – is not so odd at all. All those things can be found at his level, which is, roughly, the bottom two feet of the world. And so it was that we spent yesterday exploring Sarah Sze’s “ Grow or Die,” a 2002 installation in the Conservatory of the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden.
The installation is underground, three separate installations made of Styrofoam, nets, thread, glass beakers, lights, fans, and countless tiny, tiny, tiny things. They look like teeming miniature cities, or teeming coral reefs, or teeming medical storage facilities sprung to life. They’re clinical, eerie, and magical.
So, Asa laid down on his belly beside each Sarah Sze sculpture, and pointed at this flower, that net, this test tube, saying “ See? See?”
We go back and forth like this: “ I see a flower, what do you see?” I ask, pointing at something. Then he points at something he wants the name of, and prompts me with “ See?” We saw thread, spools, wires, lights, gauze, test tubes, flowers, all sorts of things. Finally I ran out of words, and settled on pretty’. “ Pretty, pretty” the baby would say, stabbing at the covering glass with his little forefinger.
We probably spent a full hour in reverie over Sze’s haunting installations. It made me think: The imagery directed at babies is so relentlessly saturated with teddy bears, farm animals, the alphabet, and such that you kind of assume that that’s the content they’re capable of understanding. However, I have direct evidence now that babies are entirely capable of enjoying abstract, contemporary, sophisticated, non-figurative work – if it’s presented on their level.