Helen Marten | An Anthropological Unearthing Of Contemporary Society

British artist Helen Marten’s sculptures seems to be a constellation of knick knacks, an un-decipherable pile of everyday objects in a white cube gallery space and called ‘art’ in the hand-out pamphlets, until one realizes that all of them are custom made and brand new. That they have been designed and constructed to look like bric-a-brac says something about the state of society where a blurring of what’s real and what’s fake contributes to the constructs of modern consciousness.

Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Helen Marten
Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Helen Marten

In this world, images appear and disappear, always visceral, never stops and is constantly changing. Sprinkled with graphical text and symbols every now and then, it is a celebration of the monumental and sometimes, frankly, the absurd. Here every object has a copy of itself somewhere either as an image or a cheaper ‘fake’ version or a plastic version that serves another purpose.

Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Detail
Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Detail

Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Detail
Brood And Bitter Pass (2015) Detail

This is a world where the laws of physics doesn’t seem to apply. Here objects disappear or morph into something else beyond physical limitations, bad things happen all the time but these same ‘bad’ things are sometimes vectorized into a graphic symbol that can represent something ‘good’, ‘admirable’ even.

Limpet Apology (Traffic Tense) (2015)
Limpet Apology (Traffic Tense) (2015)

In this world people are always ‘shiny’, cheerful and have some quirky hobby that they indulge themselves in, on the weekends. This is as opposed to people who are of a darker skin colour, on another continent far away, who are dirt poor and who need your help, right now.

Scalloped Scum And Tender Shoots (2016)
Scalloped Scum And Tender Shoots (2016)

In this world the images themselves are of the real world, yet they appear brighter, more colourful, more true, more ‘real’ than reality, making the actual experience of the real, when one gets around to it, rather dull. In this ‘hyperized’ reality, every scene displayed has been turned into an event, a spectacle to behold, where the pictures and sounds tell a story.

Limpet Apology w/ Spiders In Common (2016)
Limpet Apology w/ Spiders In Common (2016)

Sometimes the images show a make believe world, a world of bright, flat colours and thick black lines, where everything is exaggerated, artificial and ‘cariacturized’ describing a ‘virtual’, make believe world where human facial and bodily features, motions and emotions are exaggerated, larger than life, in service also to a story. That both the realistic and the virtual images both exist to tell a story suggests a irony, that life sometimes has become larger than itself. The phrase ‘living large’ has taken a whole new meaning.

Spiders In Common (2015) Detail
Spiders In Common (2015) Detail

“There’s a great conflation of information as material, a laminated rearrangement of that assumed magical tie between a word and a thing.” Helen Marten (on Skeumorphism)

In Helen Marten’s sculptural ‘paintings’ we see elements of this virtual world impose itself on the other images. That, together with references to national romantic precedents coupled with her vivid imagination produces an alchemy of the historical and contemporary, of the real and the virtual and of industry and entertainment. Just as her style of writing is quite hard to understand, weaving disparate subjects together often in the same sentence, so too her ‘paintings’ mix disparate visual languages together into some sort of a symphony, a symphony of noise that in the end seeks to become a sculpture.

But aside from her musings from cartoons to the cartoonification of things from real life, those strange objects arranged in peculiar fashion deserve a mention. As always an element of ambiguity exists, causing one to wonder whether they are some ‘found’ household items, or are toys, or have some other unspoken function? That they are made by people from various industrial trades is telling, for they embody an iconic quality of the kind found in the icons within the computer software used to make them. These sculptures of skeumorphs thus are a kind of an anthropological unearthing of contemporary society.

Smoke Description (2015)
Smoke Description (2015)