Helen Marten on turning language and visual online games into artwork

In Helen Marten’s palms, an exhibition is an atmosphere in which everything connects with everything else. In Sparrows on the Stone, the British artist’s new exhibit at London’s Sadie Coles HQ, she engages playfully with the human sort, inviting us to follow the contours of a huge steel stick-determine to look at artworks that riff on the notion of the system politic.

Twelve intricate screen-printed paintings — each three metres tall — offer the centrepiece of every limb or bodily organ, with compact sculptural operates (all handmade) clustering at their foundation. I start off at the head, then navigate the arms, eyed by a chorus of disembodied painted heads that remind me of a Giotto fresco.

Rather shortly I get to the guts of the clearly show, with the entry to the belly marked by a tall sculptural “figure” entitled “Horizontal Weather” — for Marten, a sort of barometer of the exhbition’s various moods. “I beloved the plan of a getting a sentry in that most fluctuating organ, the belly,” she says as she walks me around. Then it’s down to the bowel and a sculpture entitled “A Tantrum Carved from Stone”, in which pipelines guide to 1950s design apartments and system-like bells bulge from the wall.

Born in Macclesfield in 1985, Marten examined at Central Saint Martins and Oxford’s Ruskin College of Artwork and experienced her very first solo present at Naples’ T293 gallery in 2010. Much more adopted in Paris, New York, Berlin and at the Chisenhale in London. She was commissioned to make perform for the 2013 and 2015 Venice Biennales. 

‘The Hot Rain (Catchy Weather)’ (2021)
‘The Very hot Rain (Catchy Temperature)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photograph: Eva Herzog

Then came 2016: in the place of a handful of months Marten experienced a solo exhibition at the Serpentine, experienced operate in the Sydney Biennale and received both of those the inaugural Hepworth prize and the Turner prize. It was a 12 months of remarkable good results, yet a frustrating a person, also: “I’d been so occupied operating and yet I’d experienced so minimal dialogue about the content of the perform, so little response from peers or curators.”

Media protection concentrated, for instance, on her need to share the prize money, and in most instances significant engagement with the do the job was shed. “These prizes are so hazardous: they create so a great deal spectacle,” she states. “Part of the attract is that it is a spectacle and a competitiveness. I loathe that! Often the people you are revealed with are your mates and you respect their get the job done. It is not about competition.”

Her reaction was to choose a move back. “I essential a new established of lenses for myself, so I didn’t go to the studio.” As an alternative, in 2017, she began writing her to start with novel, the poetic and quirky The Boiled in Among, printed 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. Photograph: Eva Herzog

In Marten’s meticulously plotted worlds, picture and language appear hand in hand. A compulsive reader, she is generally on the lookout for phrases that could possibly produce an artwork. The phrase “horizontal weather”, for illustration, will come from Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Feeling, in which the French thinker delves into feeling and nonsense, sexuality and psychoanalysis, via texts including Lewis Carroll’s. In the very same e-book, Deleuze describes the system as a “Harlequin’s cloak” of erogenous zones. Marten picks up and runs with this too, most notably in portray “The Incredibly hot Rain (Catchy Weather conditions)” wherever, the more you seem, the additional harlequin diamonds you see.

In her literary samplings, Marten typically plucks just more than enough of the context bordering a phrase to crank out refreshing associations, but stops short of delving into her source additional deeply. Rather than pursue Deleuze’s arguments, right here she segues via the diamond shapes into phrenology and the strategy that you could point to a minimal part of the body and say “this bit is about ‘fear’ and this ‘desire’”.

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

But not all the artist’s inspiration comes from guides. The thought of the show’s adhere-determine infrastructure, whose rigid metallic cables we meticulously negotiate amongst 1 physique component and the following, took root a single sunny day in Bregenz, Austria. Sitting in an outdoor café, Marten watched birds flock overhead and turned entranced by the summary patterns fashioned by black electrical power traces established towards a vivid blue sky.

There is no direct relationship involving her novel and the demonstrate, but they dovetail in places. The chorus of disembodied heads, for example, are akin to the Messrs, all-viewing people in her novel who comment on and prod the protagonists into motion.

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

Language and picture merge and visual games abound in, for illustration, the image “Punishment Routines”, the place a policeman puts his fingers to his lips as he pursues a criminal, their bodies positioned to spell out the first two letters of the word “quiet”. Below, a clown is juggling the words “fact” and “power”.

“All art is political by character of getting a singular voice projected out into a plural globe,” Marten states. “A clown juggling ‘facts’ and ‘power’ can be a metaphor for the justice program or the politics of our present-day authorities. It is not a literalised graphic of that, [just] a clown juggling his have ineptitude or moral turmoil.”

We have become made use of to the treachery of language: Marten’s perform highlights the truth that objects far too can deceive and she evidently 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 good case in point. “You are stumbling together in this algorithmic maze wondering this and this equals that — right up until it does not,” she suggests. “That is so interesting!”

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

Marten is grateful for the possibility the pandemic has furnished to sluggish down and spend far more time on the operate in this exhibit. But with a few stained-glass paintings owing to be unveiled at Luma, Arles’ new arts foundation, and a solo exhibit of performs on paper opening at Greene Naftali in New York this thirty day period, she has been active.

With Marten, points just expand. Of her present exhibition, she claims: “I experienced promised a quite basic painting display that just variety of escalated. I’m incapable of not aggregating.”

‘Sparrows on the Stone’ runs to October 30 sadiecoles.com

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