Helen Marten on turning language and visible games into art

In Helen Marten’s palms, an exhibition is an surroundings in which almost everything connects with every little thing else. In Sparrows on the Stone, the British artist’s new exhibit at London’s Sadie Coles HQ, she engages playfully with the human type, inviting us to comply with the contours of a giant metallic stick-figure to check out artworks that riff on the notion of the entire body politic.

Twelve intricate monitor-printed paintings — each and every a few metres tall — offer the centrepiece of every limb or bodily organ, with modest sculptural works (all handmade) clustering at their foundation. I commence at the head, then navigate the arms, eyed by a chorus of disembodied painted heads that remind me of a Giotto fresco.

Pretty quickly I arrive at the guts of the exhibit, with the entry to the abdomen marked by a tall sculptural “figure” entitled “Horizontal Weather” — for Marten, a form of barometer of the exhbition’s different moods. “I beloved the idea of a having a sentry in that most fluctuating organ, the stomach,” she states as she walks me all-around. Then it’s down to the bowel and a sculpture entitled “A Tantrum Carved from Stone”, in which pipelines guide to 1950s product apartments and physique-like bells bulge from the wall.

Born in Macclesfield in 1985, Marten examined at Central Saint Martins and Oxford’s Ruskin School of Artwork and experienced her very first solo exhibit at Naples’ T293 gallery in 2010. Far 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 Scorching Rain (Catchy Weather conditions)’ (2021) © Helen Marten, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photograph: Eva Herzog

Then arrived 2016: in the place of a number of months Marten experienced a solo exhibition at the Serpentine, experienced perform in the Sydney Biennale and received the two the inaugural Hepworth prize and the Turner prize. It was a yr of extraordinary good results, nonetheless a aggravating one, too: “I’d been so busy functioning and but I’d had so little dialogue about the information of the do the job, so minimal reaction from friends or curators.”

Media coverage focused, for instance, on her drive to share the prize money, and in most circumstances essential engagement with the operate was misplaced. “These prizes are so perilous: they produce so considerably spectacle,” she claims. “Part of the draw is that it is a spectacle and a levels of competition. I loathe that! Normally the people you are proven with are your buddies and you regard their perform. It is not about competition.”

Her reaction was to just take a stage back again. “I essential a new set of lenses for myself, so I didn’t go to the studio.” Alternatively, in 2017, she began producing her very first novel, the poetic and quirky The Boiled in In between, revealed in 2020.

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

In Marten’s meticulously plotted worlds, picture and language occur hand in hand. A compulsive reader, she is often on the lookout for phrases that could create an artwork. The phrase “horizontal weather”, for instance, will come from Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, in which the French thinker delves into sense and nonsense, sexuality and psychoanalysis, as a result of texts including Lewis Carroll’s. In the exact e-book, Deleuze describes the body as a “Harlequin’s cloak” of erogenous zones. Marten picks up and operates with this much too, most notably in painting “The Hot Rain (Catchy Climate)” exactly where, the extra you seem, the far more harlequin diamonds you see.

In her literary samplings, Marten typically plucks just more than enough of the context surrounding a phrase to make fresh new associations, but stops small of delving into her supply much more deeply. Fairly than pursue Deleuze’s arguments, here she segues through the diamond designs into phrenology and the thought that you could possibly issue to a minor 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. Picture: Eva Herzog

But not all the artist’s inspiration comes from publications. The plan of the show’s adhere-figure infrastructure, whose rigid metal cables we diligently negotiate concerning a single body element and the up coming, took root a single sunny day in Bregenz, Austria. Sitting in an outside café, Marten watched birds flock overhead and became entranced by the summary designs shaped by black electric power strains established against a brilliant blue sky.

There is no immediate link amongst her novel and the display, but they dovetail in places. The chorus of disembodied heads, for case in point, are akin to the Messrs, all-viewing people 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. Photograph: Eva Herzog

Language and impression merge and visible online games abound in, for illustration, the photo “Punishment Routines”, in which a policeman puts his fingers to his lips as he pursues a criminal, their bodies positioned to spell out the very first two letters of the word “quiet”. Down below, a clown is juggling the words “fact” and “power”.

“All art is political by character of staying a singular voice projected out into a plural entire world,” Marten suggests. “A clown juggling ‘facts’ and ‘power’ can be a metaphor for the justice process or the politics of our present federal government. It’s not a literalised image of that, [just] a clown juggling his very own ineptitude or ethical turmoil.”

We have become used to the treachery of language: Marten’s operate highlights the simple fact that objects way too can deceive and she evidently delights in monitoring down points exactly where logic fails and which means collapses into nonsense: the impossibility of the phrase “a tantrum carved from stone” is a very good case in point. “You are stumbling together in this algorithmic maze pondering this and this equals that — until it does not,” she claims. “That is so exciting!”

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

Marten is grateful for the prospect the pandemic has supplied to sluggish down and spend extra time on the do the job in this display. But with three stained-glass paintings thanks to be unveiled at Luma, Arles’ new arts basis, and a solo show of operates on paper opening at Greene Naftali in New York this month, she has been active.

With Marten, issues just mature. Of her latest exhibition, she claims: “I experienced promised a pretty very simple painting clearly show that just form of escalated. I’m incapable of not aggregating.”

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

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