May 9, 2015 - Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice - Helen Sear
May 9, 2015

Helen Sear

Helen Sear, Company of Trees, 2015. Video. © Helen Sear.

Helen Sear
…the rest is smoke

9 May–22 November 2015

C Santa Maria Ausiliatrice Fondamenta San Gioacchin
30122 Venice 
Hours: Daily 10–18h
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“If there is one concrete metaphor that animates Helen Sear’s photography most of all it is that of the layer. She has sought to push photography towards a kind of sculptural condition, combining digital and physical techniques of manipulation to open and occupy imaginary spaces of depth within the image.”
Professor Steven Connor, Author and Broadcaster

Artist Helen Sear, with a project curated by Ffotogallery and commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales, represents Wales at the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale da Venezia. Her exhibition …the rest is smoke features five new works, which are both rooted in the landscapes of Wales, and respond to the wider context of the Venice Biennale. The exhibition if housed in the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, a church and former convent in the Castello area of Venice.

Helen Sear is the first female artist to be selected for a solo exhibition for Cymru yn Fenis/Wales in Venice. Known as one of Wales’s most significant contemporary artists, she continues to explore sensory realms, and the re-presentation of the nature of experience with particular reference to the human and animal body and her immediate environment in rural Wales and France. Since moving to Wales in 1984, Sear has continued to exhibit and teach in Wales and internationally, with recent solo exhibitions in Quebec, New York and Stuttgart.

The title of the exhibition is taken from an inscription in Mantegna’s last painting of Saint Sebastian, now at the Ca’ d’Oro in Venice: “Nihil nisi divinum stabile est. Caetera fumus.”

Ideas of mortality and temporality are explored through a new suite of related works looking at the countryside as a controlled environment and a locus of production and consumption. Landscapes marked and regulated by management are seen to exist simultaneously as magical spaces, imprinting themselves on both the body and mind of the viewer.

The body of Saint Sebastian is absent in Sear’s reinterpretation of the late Mantegna. The somber space of the painting is now an agricultural field planted with brilliant yellow rapeseed, close to her home in Wales. The arrows piercing the Saint have become the remains of the harvested crop, perforating and ultimately sacrificing the seamless skin of the photographic image.

Boundaries between figure and ground are explored formally and poetically in the projection work the company of trees. “The company they offer is spatial, and it is a way of measuring, of counting. Long before any numerals or mathematics, when human language was first naming the world, trees offered their measures—of distance, of height, of space…From them was born the idea of the pillar, the column.”
(J. Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, London: Granta Books, 1992).

Cinematic and literary references collide in an intense visual phantasmagoria. The fusion of archetypal images from forest and fairytale is inseparable from the cut and pulse of the edit. 

Renouncing a linear narrative, the company of trees places the viewer in a zoetropic field of vision, reminiscent of early film experiments. This work is the result of a yearlong collection of moving images in a small beech wood in Monmouthshire in Wales.

The works in the exhibition explore the image as sculptural form whereby the artist integrates different speeds of looking, contrasting physical scale, color, and vivid material presence. The works resonate strongly with each other and, through considered placement, with the architectural site of the exhibition and its place in Venice.

Cymru yn Fenis/Wales in Venice is commissioned and managed by the Arts Council of Wales and Wales Arts International with support and collaboration from the Welsh Government and British Council.

Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice
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