Mid career retrospective, Norrköping 2015. In collaboration with KulturhusetStadsteatern Stockholm

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Katrine Helmersson’s sculptures arise out of a craft close to the elements and the human body. Craft is not just a technique suited to a particular purpose. The process was once a sacred action in itself, a drama of fire, clay and metallurgy – like casting the bell in Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublev. To create a work was to create a world, a cosmogony.
Katrine Helmersson lets the clay run through her hands like in automatic, labyrinthine writing. Layer upon layer of Ariadne’s thread, creating geology and body, architecture and landscape, skin and sediment, craters and shameless bodily orifices, braidings and ravines. The hard bronze remembers its genesis and childhood in the soft, supple clay, as the striations of hard rocks testify to an earlier liquid and volcanic condition.

The craft contemplates and dreams.

Katrine Helmersson’s Wallflowers are born out of a lengthy process. With her fingers she creases and folds sheets of Nepalese paper, producing a chain of metamorphoses of petals, sea molluscs, pharynges and libidinous flaps. They are dipped in molten wax, encased in clay and fired in a kiln; the paper is annihilated to give room for the glowing, liquefied bronze. The sculptures are patinated and coloured and the names of the pigments reflect a span from archaic ritual to contemporary fetishes, from Irgazine Ruby to RougeNoir, a nail polish from Chanel.

While travelling in Mali, Katrine Helmersson was deeply impressed by the domestic items and clay architecture of the Dogon people. Art and ethnography meet in her work just as they once did for Michel Leiris who on his journey from Dakar to Djibouti was profoundly struck by the artefacts that he encountered in Mali. Leiris belonged to the circle of ethnographers and surrealists centred on Georges Bataille’s periodical Documents, a fortunate constellation – as was the marriage between the artist Louise Bourgeois and ethnologist Robert Goldwater.

A vein of this ethnographical surrealism underlines Katrine Helmersson’s poetics: reverie and automatism, myth and bodily subconscious.

Peter Cornell

Peter Cornell is a writer and art critic,professor emeritus at the Royal University College of Fine Arts and the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm.