Life poetry hiding beneath reserved appearance

Helen Marten. Becoming Branch, 2014

Life poetry hiding beneath reserved appearance

Tekstas: Aistė Paulina Virbickaitė

Studijos nuotraukos: Annik Wetter

Becoming Branch by British artist Helen Marten (b. 1985) is a contemporary sculpture, which at first sight might look like a moulding of random objects and the product of a hyperactive imagination. However, this impression is misleading. Every sculpture created by the artist is a rationally thought-out poetic world created with great precision.


The size of the sculpture clearly indicates that it is a piece of art about a human being and meant for a human being. The central horizontal plane of the sculpture is located at the height of a human waist. This makes it convenient for viewers to approach the sculpture and examine every single object that is located within their reach. It seems that if you took the sculpture by the handle-like protrusions, you could easily push it to any other location. The main construction of the sculpture reminds of a strange cradle or baby carriage. Or it could equally be the desk of someone whose profession we dont know. 

It is important to have in mind, though, that every single component of the artwork has been created especially for the purpose of this sculpture, which contains no readymade objects (purchased or found things used to create artwork). Even if any object in the sculpture looks like it was purchased in a shop, most probably it has been purposefully created to achieve this resemblance,the author says. Having thought of an idea for a new piece of art, the artist makes sketches and carefully thinks over and marks the exact place of every single object in it. Then she works with ceramic artists, metal workers, weavers, sewers and other professional craftsmen to make the required unitary objects and finally assembles them in her studio according to a premediated plan. Nothing is left to chance or impulse in the process.

The sculpture Becoming Branch is made of welded steel, stitched fabric, plastic, cast rubber, airbrushed wood, a tree stump, rope, a truck tyre, burnt bark, and a glass marble. However, no one component dominates the composition. The author seems to give greater importance to petty elements rather than the overall impression of the work. There is no single angle from which the sculpture is to be admired best, because there are strange incongruities, examples of distorted symmetry and hidden trivialities everywhere no matter which angle you choose to look at it from. It is no wonder that the artist spends up to four months working on a single sculpture. This precision of the artist in every move she makes did not go unnoticed on the international arena of art. 

Time will fly past and soon their life will come to an end and all that will remain after they are gone will be things: once precious, they will now be redundant and maybe even unrecognisable.

Helen Marten was born in Maxfield (England). She attended an art school in London and later did practical training with sculptor Richard Wentworth. Nonetheless, the door to the world of art does not necessarily open up right away even to the most gifted of students. Thus, for half a year after graduation Marten worked as a copywriter at an agency which she referred to as a writing farm. Every day she was required to write quicktexts as ordered by clients on a multitude of topics. She did not survive very long there and returned to her parents place where she started creating sculpture in their garage.

In 2010, two years after graduation, Marten held her first solo exhibition in a gallery in Naples. Her first exhibition in London was held in 2012. Then in 2013 and 2015 Marten was invited to take part in the Venice Biennale. In 2016, at the age of 31, she received the prestigious Hepworth Prize for sculpture, and several months later was awarded the Turner Prize, which is among the most important contemporary art awards for a British artist under 35. Even after all the prizes and awards, Marten remained reserved and thoughtful. Here is what she said: In the field of culture there should be no hierarchy saying I value this more than that one, because this is not what we doI do not want to sound cynical, but I truly hope that the Turner Prize will not change my life and everything will stay the way it used to be.The artists actions proved that she actually means to refute hierarchy. Marten shared both her Hepworth Prize (GBP 30,000) and her Turner Prize (GBP 25,000) equally with her colleagues who also were nominated for the prizes.  

Marten says she reads a lot and is especially fond of poetry. Her sculpture could also be perceived as a piece of contemporary poetry where both the meaning and the sound of every word are equally important (in sculpture this would be the meaning and the fabric of objects). Even though we cannot touch the various elements that make the sculpture, still when looking at them our fingers easily remember the way it feels to touch cold glass and wood or to lift a heavy metal chain. Every new object arouses new associations stirred up by our senses. Every single object looks like something, but that somethingis still not the thing. It might be that this is the way children feel when learning to recognise objects in their environment, including what they are capable of. Soon they will have learned everything and will start thinking that they already know everything about life. Then they will make reasonable use of the things in their possession or even take to creating things themselves. Time will fly past and soon their life will come to an end and all that will remain after they are gone will be things: once precious, they will now be redundant and maybe even unrecognisable. Becoming Branchis a sculpture that calmly whispers about the things that we outgrow and the things that we ourselves grow until the time comes to wither away.