Rarah Rapson: A Quiet Defiance

Sarah Rapson

Tiny Trip

3 June - 3 July 2021

Bury Street, Modern Art

by Han Mengyun

Economy is a form of radicalism, demanding the sharpest faculty to spot and trim redundancy. That's the mystery of minimalist abstraction. Knowing the unknown at the brittle tip of your antenna, and snap the protruding buds. Sarah Rapson, whose solo exhibition Tiny Trip is currently on view at Modern Art in London, is fully at ease with her feelings and intuition, reflected in her trust in materials, letting them speak in their own language, embracing the history of being used, deserted and salvaged. Under the surface of Minimalism, these laconic sculptural paintings offer a profusion of satisfaction and aesthetic enquiry embedded in the history of Contemporary Art. Conventional taxonomy of media is of no necessity. She is made of Richard Tuttle's fragility, John McCracken's linearity, Agnes Martin's tranquility, Nature’s silence and sorrow, Human's form and shadow. She is the fog at sea, the white shells under your feet, the burned bread crumbs on the lightly greased wooden table, the expired newspaper, maybe even the expired heydays of ego's fabrication. She is a mix of everything but a voice of her own. Uneven edges of the frame is not a sign of carelessness but a sparkling confidence in seeing chance as a gift. Chinese ink landscape painting often comes to mind when I was in the gallery, picking up fragments of Mi Fu's soft mountains and Mu Xi's persimmons in her whites, grays and blacks. A still-life kind of landscape, the one in all. What is not said is loudly imagined by the viewer.

There is an acquiesced anthropomorphic quality to Rapson’s linear sculptural-painting works hung on the wall. The lightly hunched plank in My Eternal Soul V (late 18th/ early 19th century) recalls the bowed head of Jesus after the Crucifixion—the sign of pain and suffering evokes my sympathy to this object, my pity to a stranger. The period of time provided by the title might refer to something specific but one can be equally content with an impression of history and its endless associations.

Like a monk’s robe tainted by dust and rain, linen worn by the plank is a mark of Time’s laborious traces. “Civilized human beings wear clothes, therefore there can be no portraiture, no mythological or historical storytelling without representations of folded textiles” says Aldous Huxley, ruminating on drapery as the abstraction in representation, as a symbol of spirituality, divinity and history. In my thoughts about the folded cloth covering Jesus’s crotch, the Kāṣāya robe on Buddha’s supple body, I’m confronted by the flatness of Rapson’s patched linen. When the folds are erased, gods and history seem to be gone. There is no more mystery but a mundane existence and an earthly suffering that bids farewell to the past.

But the work is not merely an aesthetic play. When one watches the forever looping video titled Wishing Well / cc movie part II of her putting sand into a suitcase endlessly, one looks at the sculptures with a new layer of thought—the making of art is the same as putting the sand in the suitcase, meaningless and hopeless.The booklet with Rapson's writing contains a dense cacophony of auction figure and market bubbles banging in the back of one’s consciousness:“$80 million”, “Mr Twombly”, “Regent’s Park”, “for $850,000 each”, “at Christie’s Tuesday evening”, “remarkable session”, “much more”. What do they mean to our making? What do they mean to the shells and the sand? What does money mean to the humble stones and streaming river? Nothing really.

In the deafening hail of capitalistic mania, no value is redeemed.

Perhaps this is what drove Agnes Martin to New Mexico, Sarah Rapson back to Dorset, after both spent decades in New York City, the center of lunacy. But Rapson did not follow Martin’s steps to fully embrace the openness of the sky, the inspiration from above, the quietude of a secluded mind. Rapson continues to critique quietly, persistently, from afar, yet to the center of noise.