Helen Sear's Fascination at the Martin Asbaek Gallery
Fascination by Helen Sear on display at the Martin Asbaek Gallery. Photos (C) David Stjernholm.

"I’m thrilled to be able to now take my work to a Danish audience...I’d really like to be able to spend more time in Denmark as a practicing artist."

Helen Sear, British Art in Denmark

Helen Sear is a British artist based in Wales and France. After moving to Cardiff in 1984 as the recipient of a Junior Fellowship at the city’s Art School, she decided to put down roots. Sears’s now lives in a rural enclave in Wales where she finds constant inspiration for her work. This spring, an exhibition of Sear’s art will open at the Martin Asbæk Gallery in Copenhagen. She spoke to British Council about her engagement with the British Council, and her upcoming show in Denmark. 

You’ve worked with the British Council a bit over the years – in what capacity?

The touring exhibition ‘De-Composition (Constructed Photography in Britain)’ which was curated by the British Council’s Andrea Rose and Brett Rogers, was the first exhibition where my work first came to prominence in the UK. It was a fantastic opportunity for me as an emerging artist - not only was I able to exhibit my work alongside that of some of the artists who had inspired me, but I was given the opportunity to travel to both Latin America and Eastern Europe where I led workshops. More recently I was the first woman to represent Wales at the Venice Biennale in 2015. The British Council has a central involvement in this major international event, so through Venice it was really nice to continue my interaction with the organisation’s visual arts team. 

How would you describe your work to a Danish audience? 

I’m thrilled to be able to now take my work to a Danish audience. The exhibition is a chance to show some of my newest pieces alongside my oldest, and hence preview a broad range of my work to an unfamiliar audience. My practice can be characterised by the exploration of the crossover between photography and fine art, with a focus on the co-existence of the human, animal, and natural worlds. After studying fine art initially, I went on to develop an interest in performance, film and installation work during the 1980s. Today, I continue to explore ideas of vision, touch and the representation of what might be termed ‘the nature of experience’. In essence, this involves the combination of drawing, lens-based media and digital technologies. I test the potential of an artwork to activate and elicit feeling whilst simultaneously challenging accepted notions of photography as both a documentary and creative medium.

Are you familiar with the Danish art scene?

Yes, a little bit – mainly through my interest in Danish photographers who are somehow connected to Wales! The visual artist and contemporary photographer, Trine Søndergaard, had an exhibition in Cardiff at the Ffotogallery in 2013. Recently I invited Astrid Kruse Jensen to be in the exhibition, “The Moon and a Smile”, which will be shown at the Glynn Vivian Museum and Gallery in Swansea. But I have also been impressed by what I’ve discovered during my trips to this northern country:  I am now a huge fan of Jesper Just and the Norwegian artist and vocalist Tori Wrånes, whose work I unearthed from an exhibition at the impressive Kunsthal Charlottenborg. I’d really like to be able to spend more time in Denmark as a practicing artist - ideally via an artist’s residency. Having been inspired by the northern romantic tradition of painting throughout my career, I’d love to spend more time at the museums and galleries in Copenhagen, such as the National Gallery. I’d really enjoy linking the contemporary art scene to the historic.

Fascination by Helen Sear on display at the Martin Asbaek Gallery
Helen Sear's Fascination at the Martin Asbaek Gallery
Diviner 6
Diviner 6 (Persephone) by Helen Sear. The artist's work explores the crossover between photography and fine art, with a focus on the co-existence of the human, animal, and natural worlds. Image (C) the artist. 

About Diviner 6 (Persephone)

Title: Diviner 6 (Persephone)

Date: 2018

Medium: Archival print on Hahnemule Photo rag satin paper

Size: 105 x 147.9 cms.

Diviner (from water diviner) is a series of photographs taken over 2 years of willow trees at the edge of the Lac de Cercey in France.  The marks on their trunks show that the water level was once much higher and as it has receded through the controlling mechanisms of a reservoir, the thick fibrous tap roots have been left high and dry.  These “skirts” reminded me of the hooped dresses  (guardainfante) of the Spanish court painted by Velasquez. So there is a simultaneous exploration of display (decoration) and camouflage.

Helen decorated individual trees with wild flowers growing at the site before photographing them.  These  “portraits “ have been given the individual names of mythological goddesses associated with either willow or water.

The duotone colour in the photographs reinstates the past water level and also refers to older methods of adding tints, dyes and filters to black and white photographs. In my imagination the decoration of these roots will lure the water back in the same way that a Bowerbird decorates its bower and courtship zone, to attract a mate. It is often the case that the Bowerbird will select a single colour to decorate the nest with.

While the guardainfante dresses camouflaged illicit pregnancies, it has been suggested the the male Bowerbird has a higher success rate in mating when the objects he arranges have a strong optical illusion or constructed perspective.

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