Essay – Surface Detail

Surface Detail
Andrew Paul Wood

In his satirical 1884 novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, Edwin Abbott Abbott imagined what conservative Victorian society might be like if it only existed in a planar two-dimensional universe – just breadth and width, no height. At one point the protagonist, a square, is visited by a sphere from the third dimension. Of course the two-dimensional square can only perceive the sphere as a cross-section passing through the plane of his universe until temporarily raptured up to the third dimension to better study his own. After the Square’s mind is opened to the possibility of higher and lower dimensions, he tries to convince the Sphere of the theoretical possibility of the existence of a fourth, fifth, and sixth spatial dimension, and is sent back to Flatland in disgrace for his presumption.

But if an incomprehensible visitor from the fourth, fifth or sixth dimension was to extend a non-Euclidian pseudopod into our three dimensions, what might it look like? Sarah Munro’s wall works suggest a hint of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings beefed up on steroids into spatiality. As Munro says: “three dimensional enactments of representation’s promise”.

Suddenly a form, Pontormo-esque Mannerist in the gradual shading from Italian sports car rosso corsa (“racing red”) to puce, bursts from the white gallery wall like a whale surfacing to breathe. The form suggests a mutating crystal in a smaller universe than ours. Perhaps as in J. G. Ballard’s The Crystal World (1966), time is leaking and supersaturating matter, and the world is crystalising into a jewel-like timeless eternal now.

Faceted forms are intrinsically Sublime – consider Casper David Friedrich’s painting The Ice Sea (1823–1824, Kunsthalle Hamburg) or architect Bruno Taut’s early 20th century fantasy for the Swiss Alps. The Austrian Marxist philosopher of aesthetics, Ernst Fischer, devoted much of his The Necessity of Art (1963) to the notion that crystals are the most perfect forms in inorganic. Carl Jung links crystals to the notion of unknowable self capturing disparate materials and processes in a crystal lattice. Or else they are painted surfaces rendered sculptural through the intervention of mass produced popular culture – car bodies, consumer manufacturing, furniture, décor, architecture – to give the aura of the authentic object.

There is an enigmatic, unknowable quality to Munro’s works. Interpretation and comprehension seem to slip from their faceted surfaces as though frictionless like the alien monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They offer no easy intellectual purchase, but their sentimental and visceral appeal is undeniable – like slick, hot sex consumer objects. With Munro’s forms the luscious tactility and vibrancy of the surface is paramount, and in these works they seem almost to be attempting to incorporate the flatness of the walls as well. They are low reliefs, abstract cousins to the masterpieces of early Renaissance sculptor Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) – art unafraid to be eye candy, but in the Munro’s case in the way the flashy fetish paint job on a lovingly pimped hotrod is.