LONDON — Today we have two posts that speak to each other: both Helen Marten and ektor garcia create sculpture that uses ceramics as more of a middleman than an agent in and of itself. The assemblages of objects, confusing but following their own logic, is another shared thread between the two. Marten was winner of the inaugural Hepworth Prize for sculpture and she’s in the running for the next Turner Prize.
Above image: Helen Marten, Brood and Bitter Pass, 2015. Photograph courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery.
Our selections come from across the 31-year-old’s career and we have some articles that are conducive to understanding her and her practice. The first comes from Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian:
As it happens, her work is not especially easy to read, and is devilishly hard to describe. Encountering a sculpture of hers, one first takes in a structure that might dimly recall an upturned desk, or a trough or a cradle. But then there’s the endless detail, and your eye is drawn into a world of small things whose nature seems recognisable, but at the same time strange or strained: a match from a matchbook faces off with a small bell; ceramic pipes are draped with not-quite socks; a coil of rope is topped with what looks like a fist-clenched ball of foil and a leaf. There are things that resemble jugs hanging from hooks; there are spoons flattened out into unspoonness; there are glass gherkins suspended from a metal framework as if about to be the subject of some kind of chemical experiment.
If you submit yourself to this art – approaching the sculptures like free verse whose meaning you might rather absorb than decode – you realise you are in a place unlike any you’ve entered before, where a distinctive mind has messed with the world of objects and meaning, creating her own strange, compressed archaeology, which you are invited to expand into imaginary life.
Another helpful resource comes from Marten herself, in a statement she wrote for Eucalyptus, Let Us In (New York, January 15 – February 25, 2016) at the Greene Naftali Gallery. It’s difficult to start on the thread without copying the entire statement, so we suggest people read it in its entirety. Marten starts in archeology and uses that as a springboard to talk about heavily abstracted ideas.
When archaeologists dig with hopes of unearthing nameable fragments, they seek to return latent abstractions to figuration. Bones, buildings, cups and spoons are entered into a new jig of re-articulation. Gathered and spat back out as collaged chronologies, the collected warmth of real-life perforations sieve these findings out of buried flatness and back into daily language. Once concealed by mud and foliage, sought-out areas become marked sites, places with contemporary traction.
The erased strokes of ancient activity are put back to work: vector grids symbolically allocate meaning or position to animals and humans alike. The enigma of labour necessitated by gravity – the haptic investments in making buildings stand upwards – is provided with a solid topological outline. Handwriting, numbers and vocabulary enter into new formal logic. The discovery might be intense or fragile and it is almost certainly ringed with a hallucinatory outline, which is at once a tracing of signs and alchemical process.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.