… one thinks on one’s feet (rather than unthinkingly moving along) just when one can no longer understand the space in which one is moving …
This is from the essay ‘Serra’s Abstract Thinking’ by John Rajchman found in Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years (2007):
… Serra’s sculpture is abstract but in a particular sense — an original, destabilizing one. His pieces are of course not representations of objects. They neither tell nor illustrate stories, and even when they are on a large scale, they do not commemorate or memorialize anything — in his words, they are not “figures-on-a-pedestal.” But we perhaps miss what is original about his abstraction if we leave it at that. We can also say, for example, that his sculpture is not geometric in its abstraction or compositional in its logic.
[line break added] In fact a Serra sculpture is not really an “object” at all, not even a “specific object,” obtained through a reduction and neutralization of space: the logic of his sculpture is not reductive and its operations in space are not neutralizing. Its sense of indeterminacy is not a matter of indistinction, emptiness, or absence; it is not a subtraction leading to a void or nothingness.
Serra’s sculptures, with increasing insistence, are not objects we inspect but arrangements of space in which we move. The sorts of movement they release in us thus cannot be reduced to the act of looking at them, even from many different perspectives.
… Scatter, tear, splash: Serra sought out constructive forces that don’t fit in classical rooms, and used them, as in the Prop pieces, to explore how things hold up and hold together. After his trip to Japan, however, he started to sense a limitation in these processes: “you could not enter them,” couldn’t move into their physical space. He therefore began to devise works in which these forces would be confronted directly, experientially, through the way people entered and moved about in the space.
… Into our movement space Serra’s works induce trajectories that cannot be centered in the usual relations of subjectivity and objectivity, inside and outside — that try to defeat space’s habitual coordinates (up, down, right, left, high, low), unmooring us from our usual sense of orientation, of “being there.” Construction and abstraction work together in a new way.
… This may be Serra’s great invention in sculpture: his works become gigantic steel exercises in thinking, great rusting machines in which the coordinates of natural or habitual perception are scrambled and undone — but in such a way that one exits strangely refreshed, one’s sensibilities heightened or quickened, as if new, unforeseen connections and possibilities had been introduced into one’s brain.
[line break added] The aim is not to produce beautiful objects that would match with some presupposition of universal accord or harmony in our sensory faculties, but rather, through a singularizing discord, to expose us to another kind of experience normally unavailable to us. For one thinks on one’s feet (rather than unthinkingly moving along) just when one can no longer understand the space in which one is moving in terms of an object to be cognized or re-cognized. Thinking itself acquires a new orientation, a new image and aim.
… In the New Wave European cinema that so impressed him during his stay in Paris in 1964-65, we find an investigation of how bodies inserted into empty, disconnected, or deserted spaces start to wander about, with a heightened sensitivity or receptivity that takes them beyond the situations in which they find themselves. Here the relation between movement and affect frees itself from the more contained circuits of the sentimental or touristic journey.