MC: Television, hoarding, billboards, traffic…
HM: Traffic, exactly, yes. So everything reflects back to total image, to shine and to package;
take or leave what you need, when you need it. Spielberg’s Industrial Light and Magic idea is so alchemical. A universal elixir paradox!
MC: What kind of chemical high happens in the space of a blur?!
HM: Programmed hallucination!
MC: And this takes us to terror as well, right? To the usefulness of fear…
HM: Absolutely! Fear is like a jolting chemical flood that keeps the synapses in need of constant re-wiring — in a place where justifying is not just useful but essential to keep moving.
There is a huge amount of comedy in fear: the ghoulishly cartoonish moment of hovering over the cliff chasm, but not being able to fall until you look down and the consciousness of the seeing triggers action.
MC: Comedy and violence have a pretty marauding history; cartoon punch-outs, stand-up
they’re so sadistic or masochistic.
HM: The brick on the head, the banana slip, the comic who forgets the lines — as images they’re really amazing graphic moments, such a tense tactile humor.
MC: You like the vaudevillian?!
HM: More the idea of dozens of errant banana skins that can read as bleaker metaphors when you realize that the alternate skid is into dog shit.
MC: So slapstick? But also somehow connecting lots of other dots?
HM: Kind of. The violence of the self-awareness in a stand up routine is terrifying, but jaw-droppingly brilliant. The poignancy and catharsis slippage is so knotty — how everything crumbles, only to be lightly built back up and then pitched further back into blackness. Comedy can be like a great emancipator or social condenser. The best is also so indecent, so taboo. The difficult mix of empathy, blatancy, language, repulsion, wrongness — it’s the same kind of tone I’m trying to find.
MC: Like sticking a Galliano shirt in a glass water bottle and persuading it to act like a Molotov cocktail? Such a poor one-liner!
HM: Ha! All thumbs! Sometimes it’s useful. The pathetic and the obvious can pretend be the opposite. This humanistic impulse to tidy away, to redirect the crumbs, is a funny one. I’m stealing directly from an SMS sent from a friend,* but extreme minimalism is just a fur coat turned inside out, a Benedictine attempt at denying our decorative nature…
HM: When Hergé draws tartan or tweed patterns on his clothing, the lines stay in a grid,
regardless of the volumes or twists that the fabric makes; the floppiness is treated with optical defiance. But the earnestness of the line is so believable: Egyptian in its retinal innocence, and such a great fiddle. So the cartoon men wear their own steel bars, and they’re political, but somehow detached so a child can read them. It’s a perfect piling up of absurdities, but stubbornly flat too. You get the same feeling with the porno Utamaro prints — how the stickiness of sex translates via the grating dryness of woodblock to a suggestive but ultimately condensed line.
MC: Can you namedrop somebody for me?
HM: Formica Benetton Andrex Crisco Festool Grape Nuts.
HM: Of course. And everyone knows the name.
*Kit Grover, via Richard Wentworth, text message, 31 October 2011 8:30 pm.
This interview is part of an ongoing project in which Maurizio Cattelan interviews contemporary artists for Flash Art.
Maurizio Cattelan is an artist based in New York.
Helen Marten was born in 1985 in Macclesfield, United Kingdom. She lives and works in London.
Selected solo shows: 2012: Chisenhale Gallery, London; Kunsthalle Zürich; Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 2011: Serpentine Gallery, London; Johann König, Berlin. 2010: Coltorti, Miami; Carl Kostyal and T293, London; T293, Naples.
Selected group shows: 2011:“Post Digital: The Return of the Archaic,” Samajimt, Kiev; “Beyond Gestaltung,” Bielefelder Kunstverein (DE); “Hasta Mañana,” Greene Naftali, New York; “Fruits/Flowers/Clouds,” MAK, Vienna. 2010: “Wuff, Coco,” Kunstverein, Vienna; “Fake Modern,” Camden Arts Centre, London. 2009: “Boule to Braid,” Lisson, London.