Zero to Infinity is a large interactive sculpture by the British-Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, which consists of a maximum of one hundred wooden open-framework lattice cubes that have been painted blue and are arranged in a square on the gallery floor. Each of the lattice cubes is composed of thin vertically, horizontally and diagonally oriented pieces of wood that are joined at their tips, and the diagonal parts bisect each of the cubes’ six faces at a forty-five degree angle, reaching from one corner to another. Each time the work is displayed, the cubes are initially positioned in an ordered structure, but the artist’s intention is for viewers to interact with its components by moving them into new configurations.
Zero to Infinity was originally conceived in a written proposal to the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1968, in which it was given the title Biostructural Play, but at that time it was not realised. The artist revisited the work in 2004 for an exhibition at the 198 Gallery in London, changing the work’s title to Zero to Infinity (see Stephanie Bailey, ‘Rasheed Araeen: A Man of History’, in ArtAsiaPacific, July/August 2014, p.4). Zero to Infinity was also realised as part of The Tanks: Art in Action at Tate Modern, London, in 2012–13. The addition of 2007 to the work’s dating coincides with the year in which it was acquired by Tate.
As the art critic Jean Fisher has noted, upon moving from Karachi, Pakistan, to London in 1964 Araeen was inspired by ‘the new generation’ of British sculptors, particularly Anthony Caro and Phillip King, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with the hierarchical nature of their sculptural compositions (Jean Fisher, ‘An Art of Transformation’, in Tate Britain 2007, p.4). Araeen regarded the invention of his modular and combinatorial ‘structures’ (a term he used from 1968 in order to distinguish them from traditional sculptures), each of which consisted of open lattice cubes and rectangles, as a way of introducing a more egalitarian spatial model. Fisher has described Araeen’s structures as forms
that made clear the material and structural principles of making in a move to democratize and de-mystify the art object; that began to break down the separation of interior and exterior space characteristic of modernism’s ‘autonomous’ object; and that therefore enabled the viewer to enter into a more dynamic and active relationship with the work.
(Fisher in Tate Britain 2007, p.4.)
Furthermore, Aareen has suggested that he views the gallery visitor’s act of dismantling Zero to Infinity – of breaking the symmetry of the composition – as a challenge to the fixity of British modernist sculpture of the 1960s. In a 2013 interview at Tate Araeen discussed the important participatory element of the work, stating in that he wanted visitors to dismantle the structure, ‘making one work or many other formations in their own way’ (TateShots: Rasheed Araeen’s Zero to Infinity, Tate Modern, London, 3 January 2013, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-rasheed-araeens-zero-infinity, accessed 8 May 2015). The title of the sculpture reflects the potential for continual change and unlimited variation inherent in the work. As Araeen explained to Tate curator Andrew Wilson in 2008:
In terms of the body entering the work itself, touching it, changing it, transforming it constantly – its transformation can go on to infinity. That’s why it’s called from Zero to Infinity. Zero is the static structure of Minimalism.
(Araeen 2008, accessed 8 May 2015.)
The practice of revisiting and transforming his artworks is one that has recurred throughout Araeen’s career: for instance, Chaaryaar (meaning ‘four friends’) 1968/2014 was remade for the exhibition Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915–2015 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2015. According to Araeen, Chaaryaar, which is composed of four latticed wooden cubes painted in the colours blue, yellow, red and green, was a key precursor to Zero to Infinity, since it was in ‘playing’ with Chaaryaar – moving its cubes into different compositions – that Araeen began to conceive of the larger, more participatory Zero to Infinity (Araeen 2008, accessed 8 May 2015).
Minimalism and Beyond: Rasheed Araeen at Tate Britain, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2007.
Rasheed Araeen, ‘Rasheed Araeen: Zero to Infinity 1968–2007’, interview with Andrew Wilson and Melanie Rolfe, Tate Research, London, 9 July 2008, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/rasheed-araeen-zero-infinity, accessed 8 May 2015.
Rasheed Araeen, ‘Rasheed Araeen in Conversation’, Tate Modern, London, 13 December 2012, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/audio/rasheed-araeen-conversation, accessed 8 May 2015.
Supported by Christie’s.