The young British artist Helen Marten says she’s interested in “the images of daydream, of imaginative gymnastics.” Looking at the 28-year-old’s bedazzling and much-anticipated first show with leading London dealer Sadie Coles, you can see what she means: everything is connected, but you’ll find yourself attempting some daring mental leaps to work out how. With constellations of handmade objects, the found debris of consumer culture, paintings and eerie digital imagery, it’s a romp through the 21st century’s endless streams of pictures and things, conjuring the kind of odd juxtapositions you get with a Google search.
One minute you’re considering the lovely bulk of a glossy, chunky four-foot tall ceramic, or the half undone zip in a taught skin of colored patchwork leather, like a punch-bag commencing a strip-tease. The next you’re pulled in close, to study obscure flotsam: a fast-food box and fragrant pot-pourri; shoe-shaped dog’s chew toys hanging like votive offerings; an orange ceramic hand in a bowl of blue grit. The presiding deity is a cartoon tabby cat with an outsize tail, repeated across large screenprints on leather, which circle the gallery.
In a style as beguiling and oblique as her sculptural arrangements, Marten says she hopes this dance between form, texture and scale, flatness and bulk, the handmade and the manmade, will give us, “A sort of seasonal experience. A movement through different temperatures and layers of concealment and undress. The rhythm of the objects here is very important: the serialized bumps in a friction with the more obdurately static; figuration is erotically implied but never truly animated.”
Each arrangement follows its own peculiar logic. Exfoliating curve lines (total cushioning), a stout dusty white, waist-high ceramic whose accoutrements include a spoon and a cartoon drawing of yoga positions, she says, “points towards a character who colloquially could be imagined as Yoga Mom. When you diet or exercise, the body goes through a process of transformation – there is a radical transformation of the lines which describe the total form of the body.” Thus the “rebus concoction” of sponges, magic mushrooms and balloons found at the base, which all suggest shape-shifting and altered states.
The puzzles go on and on, dragging you down rabbit holes of wordplay and allusion. Ultimately though, she says, “If there is pleasure in the experience at looking at this, if it triggers some kind of alchemical reaction in the brain, then great.”
"Oreo St. James" will be at Sadie Coles, Kingly Street, London, through March 15th, 2014, sadiecoles.com.