The poetic puzzles of Helen Marten

Helen Marten's work Image copyright AP
Image caption Helen Marten wants to "throw you off balance"

For someone who would prefer her work to do the talking Helen Marten is spending a lot of time in the limelight.

Last month she made national news as the winner of the inaugural Hepworth Prize for sculpture, to which she has now added one of the world's highest-profile art accolades, the Turner Prize.

At 31 years old she was the youngest artist on the shortlist, and also the most difficult to fathom in terms of her work.

Her hybrid sculptures, made out of materials both found and fabricated, form a complex tableau of ideas and associations.

They are poetic puzzles that question meaning and assumption, and require an almost archaeological mindset to solve.

'Intellectually rigorous'

Think Professor Branestawm meets Heath Robinson meets James Joyce, with a dose of Duchamp and Fischli & Weiss thrown in for good measure.

And then add some of the issues of today, from fake news to the nodal nature of the internet, and hopefully a picture starts to emerge in your imagination of what you might encounter when viewing a Helen Marten sculpture.

She wants to jolt you, provoke you; throw you off balance.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Marten's attention to detail is "extraordinary"

Things are not quite what they seem, objects don't conform to our expectations, awkwardness abounds.

At least, it does to begin with. But once you tune in to her way of thinking, and start to understand that the artist is not trying to fool you, but to take you by the hand and show you something new, you begin to see the beauty of her work.

Her attention to detail is extraordinary, the materials she makes (has made) exquisite.

This is not like so much contemporary conceptual art, which consists of a weak one-liner of little significance. Marten's sculptures are formally substantial and intellectually rigorous: they are made to last, in every sense.

Her father is a chemist. She is an alchemist. We are the beneficiaries.


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