September 28, 2021


art requires creative

Helen Marten on turning language and visible games into artwork

5 min read

In Helen Marten’s palms, an exhibition is an surroundings where by every thing connects with everything else. In Sparrows on the Stone, the British artist’s new show at London’s Sadie Coles HQ, she engages playfully with the human sort, inviting us to comply with the contours of a large metallic adhere-determine to look at artworks that riff on the notion of the system politic.

Twelve intricate monitor-printed paintings — just about every three metres tall — supply the centrepiece of just about every limb or bodily organ, with smaller sculptural works (all handmade) clustering at their foundation. I start at the head, then navigate the arms, eyed by a chorus of disembodied painted heads that remind me of a Giotto fresco.

Very quickly I access the guts of the show, with the entry to the belly marked by a tall sculptural “figure” entitled “Horizontal Weather” — for Marten, a form of barometer of the exhbition’s various moods. “I liked the idea of a owning a sentry in that most fluctuating organ, the abdomen,” she states as she walks me all-around. Then it is down to the bowel and a sculpture entitled “A Tantrum Carved from Stone”, in which pipelines direct to 1950s design residences and physique-like bells bulge from the wall.

Born in Macclesfield in 1985, Marten researched at Central Saint Martins and Oxford’s Ruskin University of Art and experienced her to start with solo show at Naples’ T293 gallery in 2010. More followed in Paris, New York, Berlin and at the Chisenhale in London. She was commissioned to make work for the 2013 and 2015 Venice Biennales. 

‘The Warm Rain (Catchy Climate)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Image: Eva Herzog

Then arrived 2016: in the space of a couple of months Marten experienced a solo exhibition at the Serpentine, had function in the Sydney Biennale and won both of those the inaugural Hepworth prize and the Turner prize. It was a yr of remarkable achievement, nevertheless a disheartening a person, far too: “I’d been so chaotic functioning and still I’d experienced so very little dialogue about the material of the get the job done, so minimal response from peers or curators.”

Media coverage targeted, for occasion, on her desire to share the prize funds, and in most instances important engagement with the get the job done was dropped. “These prizes are so perilous: they make so much spectacle,” she states. “Part of the draw is that it is a spectacle and a competition. I loathe that! Normally the individuals you are revealed with are your pals and you respect their work. It’s not about level of competition.”

Her response was to acquire a move back again. “I necessary a new established of lenses for myself, so I did not go to the studio.” In its place, in 2017, she started producing her very first novel, the poetic and quirky The Boiled in Involving, revealed in 2020.

‘The Two Regimes of Madness (Professor Lichen)’ (2021)
‘The Two Regimes of Insanity (Professor Lichen)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Image: Eva Herzog

In Marten’s meticulously plotted worlds, picture and language occur hand in hand. A compulsive reader, she is usually on the lookout for phrases that could possibly create an artwork. The phrase “horizontal weather”, for example, comes from Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, in which the French philosopher delves into sense and nonsense, sexuality and psychoanalysis, by texts which include Lewis Carroll’s. In the exact same e-book, Deleuze describes the physique as a “Harlequin’s cloak” of erogenous zones. Marten picks up and operates with this too, most notably in portray “The Sizzling Rain (Catchy Weather conditions)” in which, the a lot more you glance, the far more harlequin diamonds you see.

In her literary samplings, Marten ordinarily plucks just more than enough of the context encompassing a phrase to generate clean associations, but stops shorter of delving into her supply more deeply. Alternatively than go after Deleuze’s arguments, below she segues by way of the diamond designs into phrenology and the notion that you may issue to a very little area of the overall body and say “this little bit is about ‘fear’ and this ‘desire’”.

‘Dead Souls (Boots)’ (2021)
‘Dead Souls (Boots)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photograph: Eva Herzog

But not all the artist’s inspiration comes from publications. The idea of the show’s stick-figure infrastructure, whose rigid metal cables we very carefully negotiate between one particular system component and the future, took root 1 sunny day in Bregenz, Austria. Sitting in an outside café, Marten watched birds flock overhead and turned entranced by the summary styles shaped by black electric power traces established from a bright blue sky.

There is no immediate connection involving her novel and the exhibit, however they dovetail in spots. The chorus of disembodied heads, for illustration, are akin to the Messrs, all-viewing figures in her novel who comment on and prod the protagonists into action.

‘Punishment Routines (From Bad Lands)’ (2021)
‘Punishment Routines (From Lousy Lands)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Eva Herzog

Language and graphic merge and visual online games abound in, for example, the picture “Punishment Routines”, where a policeman places his fingers to his lips as he pursues a criminal, their bodies positioned to spell out the very first two letters of the term “quiet”. Beneath, a clown is juggling the words “fact” and “power”.

“All art is political by mother nature of currently being a singular voice projected out into a plural world,” Marten states. “A clown juggling ‘facts’ and ‘power’ can be a metaphor for the justice process or the politics of our recent government. It is not a literalised picture of that, [just] a clown juggling his personal ineptitude or moral turmoil.”

We have develop into employed to the treachery of language: Marten’s do the job highlights the truth that objects far too can deceive and she obviously delights in monitoring down points in which logic fails and indicating collapses into nonsense: the impossibility of the phrase “a tantrum carved from stone” is a great illustration. “You are stumbling alongside in this algorithmic maze thinking this and this equals that — till it does not,” she suggests. “That is so remarkable!”

‘The Age in Which We Love (Bulging the House)’ (2021)
‘The Age in Which We Enjoy (Bulging the Residence)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Image: Eva Herzog

Marten is grateful for the possibility the pandemic has presented to gradual down and spend far more time on the operate in this clearly show. But with a few stained-glass paintings owing to be unveiled at Luma, Arles’ new arts basis, and a solo demonstrate of performs on paper opening at Greene Naftali in New York this month, she has been occupied.

With Marten, issues just expand. Of her recent exhibition, she suggests: “I had promised a quite simple portray show that just sort of escalated. I’m incapable of not aggregating.”

‘Sparrows on the Stone’ operates to Oct 30

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