Helen Marten works across sculpture, painting and writing to create a body of work that questions the stability of the material world and our place within it. Alluding to language, systems and intentionality, her work across all media sets out to imagine the miraculous substructure beneath the veneer of our habitual lives.
The peculiar juxtapositions of material that Marten creates give attention to things that do not necessarily have a defined physical shape in the world: the notions of labour and work; the emotional capacity of paint or the verbal distortions of language are all bought into conversation. Whilst their complex references might not be made immediately explicit to the viewer there is something alchemic in the way the materials are collided and ideas are often communicated through the obstinate willfulness of the finished form. Hieroglyphic, yet charged with significance Marten’s material language is one that is tangentially spun out but rooted always to a diagrammatic logic.
There is a luscious, generous quality to the production of these works, with the strategies of layering and contingency bordering on obsessive. Metaphor is a widely used device and smaller groupings of objects - tableaux within a larger structure – could be described as articulations of verbs themselves difficult to parse. These works operate on the premise of an expanding set of ‘qualities’: motif and body, corruption and skeleton.
Fixed Sky Situation unfolds a ‘them’ sculpture, an ‘us’ sculpture and a ‘you’ sculpture. Each explores conditions of exclusion or corroboration, the shared or reciprocal experience of wielding a body with form and language, or the simple motifs of directional force – the compulsion to move from one territory to another. Each sculptural work enacts a diagram, making ambivalent social demands on its viewer. All bodies are people and all people preserve to some degree the lines of those who went before them.
Each of these works is bordered by a series of silk-screen paintings whose single and plural subjects seek to trace the snaking fever of a body’s pulse. They are chapters, each identically sized. Within the picture planes actions of authorial mapping spiral out: a census is taken, familial possibilities plotted, vanishing points spilled and recollected. And all this whilst multiple animal votives seek to violate planes of colour or abstraction. This is the chemical delirium of Nylon ink. Crests of paint overlap in thousands of layers, marking process with all the elastic springiness and potential of a rubber ball.
There are 8 new works in Fixed Sky Situation.
Marten spent 2017 working on her first novel, The Boiled in Between, which is forthcoming.