Helen Marten’s fast-paced art is of a piece with her meteoric career trajectory: from nowhere, this twenty-something Brit seems to have landed in kunsthalles around the world. If fame has put Marten under pressure, it isn’t evident in her first show in Sadie Coles’s kunsthalle-like new space, where the artist’s expansive, stream-of-consciousness still lifes fill the vastness with aplomb.
Hers is not an easy aesthetic. No surface here is without embellishment: leaves, dead flowers, wizened fruit, pipe cleaners, cutlery etc are sometimes arranged into artful little peaks, strung together like jewellery or angler’s flies or draped like hippy dream-catchers. But the show offers up rhythmic delights as the work flips between super flat (a series of screenprints on leather depicting, among other things, a cat supported mid-air by its own tail) and chunky three dimensions.
It’s hard to know where one thing ends and another begins, which seems to be the point. Sculptural works come in pairs (most of the time) but all are plinths, of sorts – one a kind of side table or waste paper basket, the other a legs and arse combo that provides a curving shelf. These arrangements may correspond with the works on the wall, which shift in subtle ways – a change of temperature or season, for example, hinted at by background colour or falling leaves.
The idea isn’t to stop and ponder but to keep moving, as Marten’s installation pushes you forwards and draws you back. Delirious and wearying, it’s an encompassing world, one that holds a mirror up to our own endlessly distracting lives – of Youtube cats and sidebars of shame. If you’re feeling uncharitable, it’s also about never really having to value one thing over another.
Marten’s self-awareness saves the day. In her 2012 Chisenhale show, she displayed a blinding series of screenprint works depicting Mozart; dangling from the base of each panel were bottles of spirits, which seemed like a pun about being drunk on (young) genius, or perhaps being aware of an impending hangover. Here, that self-supporting cat seems to provide a note of commentary, something about agility, perhaps, or landing on your feet?