Pochoir, KulturhusetStadsteatern [mid career retrospective]

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‘The exhibition title, Pochoir, is borrowed from the French for void, pocket, or lack. Katrine Helmersson’s sculptures often have French titles, and her works can allude to themes and ideas from French philosophers such as Julia Kristeva and Jacques Lacan. Themes like lust, desire, the feminine, or absence. The title Pochoir can be interpreted existentially, as relating to an original lack or longing.

This exhibition is a retrospective presentation of Katrine Helmersson’s oeuvre from the 1990s to today. At the entrance is a reconstruction of the sculpture group La Société Phallocentrique, which originally stood in the beech wood at Wanås Sculpture Gardens. The work was inspired by depictions of the Indian deities Lingam and Yoni, said to represent fertility. Indian culture, with its down-to-earth relationship to rituals was one of Helmersson’s earliest inspirations, when she was an exchange student in the State of Gujarat in 1988.
Katrine Helmersson’s art is both sensual and symbolic, with frequent references to the body, and physical imprints of the artist herself. In the early piece La Veuve/The Widow (1992), for instance, the artist’s bite marks are visible on the phallus-like objects. The inspiration came from Etruscan phallus amulets. Katrine Helmersson studies cult objects from different parts of the world, and the sources of of several of her works can be traced back to religious artefacts and fetishes.
Since 2006, Katrine Helmersson has travelled and worked in Mali, western Africa. She has been inspired by the Dogon culture and has participated on Mali’s contemporary art scene. Together with the Association of Friends of Textile Art, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern has commissioned the production of a new textile sculpture by Katrine Helmersson, Pochoir, 2014. The work borrows its design from an earlier bronze sculpture, Ariadne/ MontRouge, from 2007. This, in turn, has its origins in a work made of hand-coiled clay. The latest sculpture, Pochoir, is endowed with an entirely new motion, with circle upon circle of shiny bazin fabric that gives life to the sculpture and sets it apart from previous versions. A volcano in black and red. The inner hollow of the sculpture can be glimpsed, through openings, pockets.

The bronze triptych Wallflowers (2005) can be viewed from a before or after perspective. This bunch of tenderly folded shapes, solidified in the black-green bronze, like bitter fruits, was based on a previous work, Dark Currents, from 2003. To create Wallflowers, the artist used origami-folded paper that was burned to leave a cavity for the molten bronze in the mould. A film in the exhibition shows how a black paper rose is burned to ashes – to form a void. The shapes are repeated in the recent textile work Amour; le rouge et le noir/Love; The Red and the Black (2014) from Mali. Here, heavy clusters of fabric are strung up on red threads, like a rosary of remembered loves. Katrine Helmersson’s works often balance on the boundary between incantation, magic and psychoanalysis. We can each choose how we want to interpret the enigmatic and ambiguous objects. In Amulets Against the Evil Eye (2014), a mass of white plaster eyes gaze out over the city and Sergels Torg. Some are filled, observant, others just empty. They watch and they guard.
The exhibition also features a group of modern goddesses of hunting, titled Artemis, busts of mink, swakara and leopard fur respectively. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of hunting and chastity. She was said to protect expecting mothers, but could also be both vengeful and cruel. The busts carry weapons such as daggers and swords for hunting, but also to protect their own soft bodies.
The earliest goddess bust, from 1989, is carved into a small wooden portal. The artist had come across a similarly sculpted door from the Dogon Province. The work can be seen as a first step towards the West African design traditions that Katrine Helmersson now explores. This type of door was traditionally used for sheds and granaries. The carvings are symbols of fertility and forces to protect whatever is stored behind the door, and can have a variety of expressions. Dogon doors are popular wedding gifts, as they represent protection of the home and hearth.
Fur is often associated with fetishism, and pochoir can also refer to the deprivation that gives rise to fetishism, where the surrogate is more desirable than the real thing. Like the surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim, Katrine Helmersson used fur in several of her early works. The Navel of Dream (1994) resembles an overgrown fetish that sprawls shamelessly on its plinth.Perhaps this sense of deprivation is what drives an artist to create something new? From the lack, the void, springs something entirely novel. From longing – a passion, a new life or a darkness in which to rest.

Ulrika Sten, curator
Kulturhuset City Theatre

© Copyright Katrine Helmersson – Photo:© Michael Perlmutter