Helen Marten is a rising young British artist who has demonstrated prowess in sculpture, video, film, and installation. She graduated from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University in 2008. Since then, galleries and museums in Europe and the United States have exhibited her physically dense and conceptually well-honed work. Marten’s room-size installation, Orchids, or a Hemispherical Bottom (2013), was included in the Palazzo Enciclopedico of the 55th Biennale di Venezia.
Marten’s return to Venice for the 56th Biennale signals her unwavering ability to rouse people into pleasurable states of contemplation. She deftly composes quirky objects and images into seamless, or perhaps seam-filled, reveries of thought, each image apparently hyperaware of its own complicity in the slippery production of meaning. As viewers move through her work, its meticulously coordinated logic borders on a confused heap of playful human ingenuity. Marten’s work maintains a steady progression and pace, and the order amidst chaos is hypnotic and reassuring. Yet beyond the presence and order of things, viewers sense an explosion of meaning and complexity. For although Marten works to maintain a certain stability, the unbridled progression of things and ideas, in both physical and imaginary space, is wittingly ominous. Becoming Branch (2014), for example, is made of welded steel, stitched fabric, plastic, cast rubber, airbrushed wood, tree stump, rope, walnut, truck tire, burnt bark, glass marble, and string. Bodybowl (2014), on the other hand, features welded steel, aluminum, fabric, plastic, cuttlefish, braided wool, cast bronze, cast rubber, fossil teeth, corn stalk, cast resin, marbles, chipboard, electrical wire, stainless steel, and toothpicks. These sculptural amalgams, created from a panoply of materials, are delightful and awe-inspiring in the sense of both beauty and horror as suggested by the literary theorist and philosopher Kenneth Burke.
For this year’s Biennale di Venezia, Marten has constructed a wall of precise dimensions to support a new capacious and hallucinatory body of work. Flaps, sticks, hairs and bruises (2015) is a multidimensional collage of things on top of other things, juxtaposing and even protruding from each other (as in the bench that pierces through the wall). Marten directs attention to the edges, to the vibration and friction, “erotic seams in which information is held, but continually dissolved, retraced or overlapped.”