Spatial trade-offs in the work of Helma Vanrens.

M.T. Beguiristain
Text catalogue exhibition Ibercaja

Images from the catalogue. Exhibition Ibercaja, Valencia

Helma Vanrens is a surprising sort of artist mainly because of a certain feeling you get, if you happen to meet her at the same time that you first see her work, as I did - a certain feeling, as I was saying of sliding along between two worlds the limits of which are none too sharply defined. It is as though you suddenly found yourself slipping between the firmness and insegurity of her poetics, between emotive expression and concept, between playfulness and awe, forever skidding on between two different places which neither oppose nor contrast each other, though they remain clearly distinct, never quite melting together into one single reality, one expression, one concrete object.

Helma presents her pieces somewhat shyly, as if they were humble aesthetic objects lacking in great pretentions, but at the same time she is a firm believer in her work.
The objects themselves reinforce this impression - light, manageable, and suspended as they are. Cornered on the wall, they seem to be asking for permission to exist; such is their harshness and their fragility, that shy, imposed humility characteristic of childhood. These very traits are then used by the pieces as a sort of weapon, a way of imposing themselves on perception. The spectator finds himself staring at them, caught up by the impression that they appear to be fleeing, but closer examination reveals the firmness of their presence and forces one to look first and only afterwards begin an analysis in an attempt to decode their meaning.

The feeling is neither gratuitous nor intuitive; it is mainly due to the expressionistic nature of Helma`s work and its superimposition on Nordic heritage, the inheritance of the Stijl, perhaps. It is due to the way in which her work is summed up in pure lines, the minimum expression of well-defined volume; it is due to the state of perpetual motion she achieves in the way she structures her objects and affords them volume and presence. This is how she gives the pieces movement and instability. Their frame of reference becomes evident; it is the gaze of an adult seeing a child as volume in movement, momentary balance congealed in form. There is something almost poetic in the simplicity of the forms, something like rhythm, like cadance, something somewhere between a haiku and a Calder mobile, round and light as air.

A further result of this mixture of observation and memory of childlike perception is actually what I find most intriguing in this artist`s work, what we might call spatial trade-offs. Helma has a very special way of combining the dimensions of space. As a result, some of her pieces are almost architectonic. She mixes the flat and upright elements of a building in a such a way that they may be perceived simultaneously. Buildings erected by Nature - like the stones in Cuenca she describes to me - or man-made buildings reaching up to God - like cathedrals or the enormous sculpture-buildings of the past decade - all serve a counterpoint to the gaze of a child crawling along the horizontal edge of a surface sheltered - or perhaps overwhelmed - by an upward gaze at the towering height of the building which to it, is an adult. I am sure that as we all take the trouble to remember, we can recall the visual impressions of our surroundings when the vertical scope of our gaze could reach no higher then the knees of an adult and we will thus immediately recognize how much our way of looking at things has changed. And so the precarious balance turns to relativity, the relativity of what is big and what is small, a relativity with no logical outcome in sight and which we will do well to leave to a form of expression capable of presenting it synthetically. The simultaneous perception of two flat surfaces offered to us in this sculpture immediately refers us back to our own experience of having seen the world both from above and from below. This mixture of dimensions complements the sense of movement present in this work, perceptually lightened, or, we might say, feminizing the weighty load of the material itself, turning it into a sort of musical melody.

This doubling or superimposition of gazes, rather then being a kind of ambiguity, amounts to a sort of sliding movement like that of the play on words Helma uses in her "Miraderos", a linguistic devise which reinforces the feeling, as it retains the meaning of miradores, belvederes or places from which to observe the outside world, at the same time that it incorporates a complementary notion, that of objects to be observed. And the fact is that sculpture, all sculpture nowadays, that is, is a much an aesthetic object meant to be perceived as it is an object which lends aesthetic value to anything perceived in connection with it. The two are well-distinguished acts with a common characteristic; it is clear in both that just leaning out to look will not allow us to see all that there is to see, and this then implies the intuition of sight or imagining what can be seen in what is hidden or covered when it becomes unhidden, when we discover it.
Miradero / merendero ( lookout / beach café ) the sound is also reminiscent of play and pleasure,movement and discovery, the evening of childhood.

All in all, the sculptures on display in this exhibition may be understood in terms of views, how we look at things. Views from above, views from below, looking up, looking down, looking at cathedrals, mountains, trees or people. How relative a look is, how important it is.
Complex gazes that never see it all, made up of process, action, time and movement.
And looking implies the acquisition of knowledge - what else could art be about? The road of introspection in a reflection of the image of our gaze, and any attempt at creation is a road leading to our inner selves. Maybe that is why, in these times of colorful postmodernism, Helma prefers to leave her works the austere black color of the iron of which they are made.

M.T. Beguiristain
Art critic