Long have Abdul Multhalib Musa’s sculptures been described as having a correlation with contemporary architecture: Frank Gehry’s sculptural buildings, Santiago Calatrava’s aperture technology or deconstructivist designs of Zaha Hadid, for example, are separated only by their scale not form. Similarly, Musa’s work fits within a lineage of sculptors who pursue that point between balance and flight, where the precise distribution of weight spatially activates a sculpture. One only has to picture the elegant needle works of American George Rickey and Richard Serra’s standing steel curtains to understand that a mathematical equation can articulate a form and imbue it with an energy that is undeniably felt by its audience. While this list of luminaries sits as good company for Musa’s work it does little, however, in describing his cohesive evolution of forms that arrives at his latest body of work titled “Twist”.

Constructed from flat propeller-like units made up of 2, 3 and 4 fins, Musa’s “Twist” sculptures stand totem-like up to 600mm tall animating the gallery space. The relationship of the individual elements is deeply gestural; each set slightly ajar and stacked along a vertical axis in a random rotary action. What has increasing emerged is a sense of hand in the sculptures of Multhalib Musa, that is, evidence of the artistic process moving beyond the machine-cut and computer specifications.

While the physicality of these sculptures is not complicated, it is deeply considered. They are acutely aware of international abstraction, the phenomenology of geometry, computer design pedagogy and mathematical equations found within nature, such as a shell’s spiral or physics of a wave. The resulting “Twist” sculptures are a composite of differing frames of thought – scientific, ethereal, organic – moving from an analytical investigation to one that calls upon artistic intervention.

Overcoming the steel’s density, the viewer doesn’t feel weighted by their scale of “Twist”, allowing a greater connection with the work. It is an intimate spatial engagement, a human response that perhaps connects with the aforementioned semangat (spirit) that Musa describes as “existing between imagination and reality”. One could argue this has always existed at the core of his work simply through process – lifting a computer-designed form into 3-dimensional or real space. It is best illustrated in his “Involute” series (2005) where a laser-cut pattern is scored into sheet metal and, when lifted out of its 2-dimensional plane, pops into suspended animation. With “Twist” it is more intuitive.

Apart from this inherent ‘action’, what links Musa’s “Involutes” and “Twist” sculptures is the same drawn line. The “Involutes” are held together by a spinal axis, an s-shaped line locked within their circular form. It reoccurs as the double-sided fin, first used in a group of works titled “Biring” (2007) in a joint exhibition with Yusof Ghani. While both series use the foundation of a linear axis, the “Involutes” maintain a clean, continuous edge to define its exterior form. A “Twist” acts in the reverse. Its edge is jagged as a toothed-saw or sea urchin, at once compelling in its beauty yet toned with danger. It is this dichotomy – Yin Yang – that creates their tension and their strength. The simple flat fin suddenly becomes charged on repetition and, like Ghani’s paintings, its gesture is evocative.

It is another move away from the computer, which anchored the past work, towards compositional improvisation. This spontaneous placement of the “Twist” units could be said to parallel the arrangements of minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich where repetition is used to create a hypnotic or transcendental state. Similarly, the avant-guard compositions of John Cage, who came to the idea of ‘chance-controlled music’ in the 1950s, uses the I Ching, an ancient text on change, as the standard tool for cutting up and rearranging recordings. Musa’s new twisted derivatives use the same construct of the re/assembled standard unit, imbuing a non-precious metal with lyrical energy.

Several works in this exhibition push this dynamic to its extreme, encroaching unbalance. By locating the axis asymmetrically, Musa forces the fins to find a new equilibrium within the form. They become resolved within their own space and motion. This control is visually traced along the sculpture through its welds, emphasising its corkscrew musicality as an aesthetic element. The play, or lightness of the “Twist” is captured in their convex and concave rhythms, scooping up and refracting the light along the length of the form. One wants to move around these sculptures. They are solid without being bulky, bursting with flight spiralling vertically, countering gravity and entering the metaphysical.

While Multhalib Musa’s “Twist” sculptures may use the perfection of machine-fabrication and sameness, he liberates the object with the vibrancy of weathered patinas and organic placement. Their finished compilations mine new depths in Musa’s oeuvre and push his intervention with the sculptural form into an exciting future.

Gina Fairley