Figures are stolen. Faces, poses, fabric – chopped and stitched anew. Mantegna, Tchelitchew, Ensor, Van Gogh, Redon, others. These are drawings made listening to audio books, plugged into one world to slide with hope beyond another. There are contemporary exits and knots in which to find new shade. Even through headphones, the birds make a racket as they slip up and down through air like holy fools.

Sometimes there is a gathering of all the faces, wrapped in smoke. Nobody has teeth that don’t look like acorns or mud. Bodies with well-muscled forearms for breaking dirt from laundry. Naked pigs luxuriating in a sand pile.

We hear on the radio that Picasso died whilst painting. We look at our own table, the sun burned fog of cigarettes still hanging over, dark dog on the lino resting, candles too slumped inwards with their own peculiar inertia. The lamp was left on from evening, blind Minotaur, round and steady on the wall. We keep it despite the alarming colour of enamel that nobody likes. Our minds are not turned to housekeeping. This is not a still life but one newly slow moving, one evidential of older and more rapid merriment.

The surgical deliverance of wine we were so involved in last night, first neatly sipping from clean-towelled glasses, then fumbling, jumpers back to front as we sloshed reds from mugs and traced loops of our island’s natural history in spills of Perrier and peppercorns is still sticky on the surface. Another ring of glazes to rope things together. Cloves and cornmeal packets are also spilled out, squashed down into grooves of relentless carpentry already full with wax and other mystery. We did so much decoration last night. Somebody did something with the eggs, holding the warm boiled weights in their hands, throwing them up at the wall and catching them over and over until all the shells had flaked off and onto the floor. Even a small chicken is traced out in salt, idle fingers playing with the bowl, letting the grains trickle first through hair on the arms, then more focussed drizzles to draw out beak and wing.

Last season we all loved scavenger birds, had posters of them on the panels of our kitchen cupboards, hanging them neatly with strips of tape we sliced straight with the paring knife. Our only scissors were gone some time ago, one of us trying to fix a zipper and breaking both. We need our jackets here. For the birds and sighting sticks far out in the mud..

Someone has started breakfast but left most parts unfinished on the side. The bacon is wrapped in newsprint whose headlines tell us the other traits of all the politicians we know, social columns howling quick words at men with Italian looks and Latin names. They all have shallow fevers for gold and prospect. Some of us came here before the sun really spread itself. Others came to hear the gulls, to swim instead of bathing, to clang about with skillets and paisley house shoes not sore business folk. Two baked potatoes are testament to that, ready and steaming on an oven tray, slit like ripened fruits with their guts of tomato sauce and cheese.

This is the kind of Utopia that has tried to settle here. That makes newcomers stare in curiosity, not the old ones who rather creak with laughter, with their dogs who bark and stretch their legs on coarse ground, for they know of the patches of animal mind that remain inarticulate, simply loveable with tongues tipped out, not sophisticated with grave studies of neighbours and their manners, simply padding about with tails merrily raised.

– Helen Marten, May 2020


Helen Marten (born 1985, Macclesfield) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Drunk Brown House, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (2016); No borders in a wok that can’t be crossed, CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Annandale-on-Hudson NY (2013); Plank Salad, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2012); Evian Disease, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Almost the Exact Shape of Florida, Kunsthalle Zürich, Zürich; Dust and Piranhas, ‘Park Nights’, Serpentine Gallery, London (2011); Take a stick and make it sharp, Johann König, Berlin (2011) and Wicked Patterns, T293, Naples (2010). Major group exhibitions include The Body Electric, The Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis (2019); A TIME CAPSULE: Works Made by Women for Parkett, 1984 – 2017, Parkett Exhibition Space, Zurich (2018); Turner Prize, Tate Britain, London (2016); WELT AM DRAHT, Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin (2016); Hepworth Sculpture Prize, Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, UK (2016); All the World’s Futures, 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, Venice (2015); Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), 55th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, Venice (2013); 12th Lyon Biennale, Lyon (2013) and New pictures of common objects, MoMA PS1, New York (2012). Marten received the Lafayette Prize in 2011 and the LUMA Award in 2012. In 2020 the artist will publish her first novel The Boiled In Between, with Prototype Publishing. In 2021 she will present two major new solo exhibitions at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz and Castello di Rivoli, Turin.