Helen Marten

Evian Disease

The next screening on SCHQ Electric is Helen Marten’s CGI animation Evian Disease, 2012. Made between 2011 and 2012, the film was originally created for a solo presentation at Palais de Tokyo, Paris in 2012.

Structured as a shifting dialogue between six characters, Marten’s digital animation unfolds as a beguiling stream of visual and verbal signifiers, exploiting the glossy pseudo-realism and seemingly banal aesthetic of the medium.

The unseen narrators variously muse on humanity’s conquest of nature as they move through a collage of free-floating, overlapping and interpenetrating simulacra and scenery set forth by Marten – a jellyfish floating in a uniform blue sea; a close up shot of a snooker table, incongruously populated with balls, pieces of sushi and filaments of bark; a virtual-reality living room in all its deadening pristineness; and a sinister avatar-baby who is simultaneously hyperreal and robotic.

As the sequence progresses, imperceptible slippages within the commentaries (which fluctuate from apposite to the absurd), coalesce with the artificial weightlessness and incongruity of the virtual scenery: gradually probing and destabilising the visual and linguistic edifice of meaning. Of Evian Disease, Marten has commented that it ‘reeks of dishonesty… There is nothing to touch, no smell, just this weird rubbery shell that at the same time is both materially dead and data-osmotic. In some ways, it is more code than text – the gender has been stripped out, and with that, a sense of the weight.’

Helen Marten

Orchids, or a hemispherical bottom

SCHQ Electric presents Helen Marten’s Orchids, or a hemispherical bottom, 2013. The digitally animated video forms the focal point of an eponymously titled room-sized installation, conceived of for the 55th Venice Biennale.

Through digital animation, Marten generates a sanitised and alluring landscape of free-floating and fragmentary objects. Set against abstracted, tonal sceneries, glossy pseudo-real forms are excised from their usual contexts and rendered in colours that range from the surreally heightened to the deliberately banal. Opening with a procession of toy-like objects – a train, a giraffe on wheels, an artichoke, a boat – gliding along on an impossibly rich blue plane, the video unravels between a shifting two- and three-dimensional veneer of reality that is at once seductive, absurd and formulaic.

Mimicking the aesthetic sur-reality, the accompanying male voiceover draws the viewer along a surreal journey in which evocative images mass together into a heady melange of resonances, suggesting a sensual kind of catastrophe. Veiled by a brittle air of politeness, the narration is delivered in a cross-section of registers and intimations that grow increasingly frantic and euphoric towards its close; incongruously weaving together episodes with phrases such as: ‘you tell an octopus “be an elephant”, and the octopus becomes an elephant… The ridiculous ostrich is next to the logical hen… The kangaroo mocking the future Madonna…’.

As with previous works such as Evian Disease, 2012, the video reflects an impulse – discernible throughout Marten’s practice – to distil the make-up of everyday stuff, and to skew, suspend or deconstruct ingrained meanings.