For her most recent exhibition titled ‘Fixed Sky Situation’ at Koenig Galerie, Turner and Hepworth Prize winner Helen Marten presents eight new works, including three complex installations and five large paintings that circle the space like secular polyptychs.
The nave of the old St. Agnes church, which has housed Koenig Galerie’s main exhibition hall since 2015, is a space that never fails to impress. Its architecture has retained the calm grandeur of a house of devotion. But this architectural hurrah also makes for a challenging space in which to exhibit contemporary art. At times, it is too vast and dilutes the impact of the art being exhibited. When it works, though, it gives muscle to a show.
Marten’s latest exhibition successfully inhabits this spectacular space. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor encounters the first installation, which is described in the exhibition statement as the ‘you’ sculpture. Reminiscent of a site under repair, with cast pylons and a long sliding element that is not unlike the rail of a dry-cleaners, and a wooden platform hosting various objects; the ‘you’ sculpture seems divided between an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ section. This is a piece that prompts the viewer to pay close attention to details, and particularly to what’s ‘inside.’ Here, details are plentiful. The whole exhibition works within this push / pull logic - trying to balance an appreciation for the whole structure while paying attention to its exquisite parts. This is particularly true of Marten’s paintings. Metal structures partition their surfaces like a Mondrian grid and the left over rectangular areas reveal an array of fabrics and motifs.
The second installation presents itself in the form of a collapsing hut that sprawls over a series of rails and tables. Every surface is packed with an assemblage of surprising items in every imaginable colour, shape and texture. The formidable number of objects creates a generous clutter that appears meticulously placed and inexplicably organized. The result is strangely alluring; it does not overwhelm, but actually calms the mind. There is a delight in the unexpected harmony of so many things. Herein lies the genius of Marten and the wonder of her arrangements: somehow managing to be excessive without being redundant.
On the other side of a large board is the last installation: a sort of picnic table, again covered in the most astonishing of objects and accompanied by a large painting supported on the self-standing wall. This is a fascinating world - a cabinet of curiosities.
But do all these objects add up to a coherent assemblage? It should come as no surprise that this work emerges in the age of the index. It is part of a digital world that has severed the signifier from the signified and elevated objects to the position of ciphers. Meaning and context are obfuscated. The exhibition text goes further, describing the exhibition as ‘hieroglyphic.’ The more one delves into these works, the more expansive Helen Marten’s universe become. Looking beyond face value, Marten proves, the world is vast.