Forms

Heather Allen has recently created strangely ambiguous sculptures, enigmatic creatures that inspire the imagination and carry the viewer off into worlds that are difficult to access. This will surprise the visitor, perhaps shock him, but in any case irritate him, because:

So far, the English artist has made herself known above all through her installation works. Her didactic impulse was aimed at social and socio-political themes such as freedom and the dissolution of boundaries, presented in model-like stagings. The core and centre of this artistic examination was the human figure, the human being as part of extended architectural and social space.

And now this!

Strange organic objects colonise the exhibition space as solitary sculptural objects and remain silent. Most of them shine quietly in their discreetly languid colours, growing out of the ground as if conjured up by magic. One recalls excursions to natural history museums, archaeological and paleontological collections, hunting rooms and salons, chambers of curiosities of eccentric amateurs.

But there are no explanatory hints, the artist herself speaks only of “form” – aha! – so she is concerned with Abstracta.

With her new sculptures, Heather Allen turns the immediate sensual experience into the mediating medium of non-verbal knowledge, the sensual experience into the foundation of knowledge and understanding.

These are great words in contrast to works of art, which at first glance appear quite modest and lack monumentality. On the contrary, some of these pitifully nameless creatures of art move on planks that sway in different ways over an abyss of comedy and seriousness. An artist who succeeds as confidently as Heather Allen must be baptised with a deep, bottomless sense of humour and thus be English.

Perhaps at some point she will have noticed the images of the tower-like excrement heaps of earthworms that the famous Charles Darwin had produced for his work “Die Bildung der Ackererde durch die Tätigkeit der Würmer” (“The Formation of Soil through the Activity of Worms”), cut life size in wood after photographs. Anyway, I thought I heard a distant cackling and smirking of Shakespearean witches when I was alone with the sculptures – and finally a hoarse laughter from the Monty Python area.

But it’s too short-sighted to reduce Heather’s sculptures to aspects of the comic or random because of their unusual figurative form. Even where brilliantly erect limbs, like hyper-sexually charged dildos, are in their splendour and embarrassingly dazzle the observer, they are results of goal-oriented strategies and conceptual procedures.

What looks as if it has emerged from a continuous process of growth is the result of planning, development and corrections. Sketches, drawings and other drafts are stepping stones and mark the path to a valid sculpture. In fact, these new figurations are preceded by a two-dimensional research and accompany the development of the sculpture until its final fixation as a “form” in space.

The sense and purpose of these sculptures is their figuratively formed existence, they are justified by their appearance.

Heather Allen’s “Forms” are singular, unique works of art that have never before been seen in such quality. Perhaps Louise Bourgoise and Alberto Giacometti beckon from afar from their great cloud – but I find nothing comparable in the circle of contemporary living artists.

With her art, Heather Allen shows us a different, a new way: and that’s a good thing!

Dirk van der Meulen, November 2015