Born 1985 in Macclesfield, England Lives and works in London, England

In her installations, sculptures and videos, Helen Marten is known for combining seemingly disparate materials and imagery to create ambitious, eclectic works. Upending viewer expectations, what at first glance appear to be found objects are revealed on closer inspection as sculptural entities, handcrafted by the artist. Just as they play with the reference systems for physical stuff, Marten’s intricate assemblage-inspired installations also play with the notion and history of the readymade. Using the outlines of recognisable things as shorthand symbols of social activity or exchange, she materialises language into three-dimensional form, to explore what she describes as a preoccupation ‘with the status of toothpaste, the floppiness of pasta, eroticism of rubbish’. [1]

Smoke Description, 2014, as with other works by Marten, brings together an unlikely assemblage of objects and materials, a conversation between divergent forms which here takes place on a set of screen-printed fabric panels. The work is laid out as a grid, upon which a mass of images – smoky and elusive – emerge from within the fibres of the material. On the surface, graphic marks skim; a head appears in profile, amidst geometric patterns that might recall architectural plans, or topographical lines. Yet they do not have any real-life referent. Marten’s densely amalgamated components are unruly, and, collectively, their logic is cryptic – the puff of smoke, for instance, seems to behave as if it were an object. As elsewhere, here the work gives a nod to the animate, the figurative and the voluminous, and yet it is flattened; positioned on the edge of legibility, Smoke Descriptionis an amorphous, unspecific landscape of indeterminate origin.

Parrot Problems, 2014, on the other hand, is a freestanding sculptural assemblage, made with Marten’s characteristic technique of mashing together aesthetic models with heterogeneous materials. The work has been constructed using a motley array of ingredients – albeit all carefully chosen – from welded steel, cast plaster and latex, to prosthetic eyeballs, rivets and a hammer, among other things.

This work brings to mind an array of associations, caught somewhere between schematised dollhouse and architectural model, or even between sculptural design and digital rendering. And yet, Marten simply quotes the recognisable, whether models or paradigms, while at the same time making something that is, in essence, functionless. Parrot Problems superficially resembles discarded ephemera, though Marten’s version of sculptural detritus is precisely assembled. Combining diverse objects, textures and surfaces, the work is both meticulous and an impossible aggregate, a hybrid that defies any attempt at singular interpretation.

Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Parrot Problems’, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (2014); ‘Oreo St James’, Sadie Coles HQ, London (2014); ‘Helen Marten: No borders in a wok that can’t be crossed’, CCS Bard, New York (2013); ‘Almost the exact shape of Florida’, Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich (2012); and ‘Evian Disease’, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012–13). Selected group exhibitions include ‘All the World’s Futures’, 56th Venice Biennale (2015); ‘MIRRORCITY: London artists on fiction and reality’, Hayward Gallery, London (2014); and ‘Encyclopaedic Palace’, 55th Venice Biennale (2013).

[1] Helen Marten, quoted in Interview Magazine, October 2012.