artists register

Helen Snell


Introduction

This particular series of paper and acrylic vessels explores the theme of survival. I produced the work as part of my residency at Plymouth College of Art and Design.

The initial impetus was a commission from Dartington Arts to work with veteran site-specific choreographer Stephan Koplowitz and his company Taskforce. LIQUID LANDSCAPES was a series of water related dance performances in Plymouth and my commission included producing an installation of over 300 multicoloured paper vessels that the dancers responded to at the Mayflower Steps.

The first designs were hand cut and focused on a simple shape based on a commercial packaging net. I then loaded it with imagery to produce a range of more complex laser-cut vessels. The boat can be seen as a life raft piled high with remnants of lost lands, a salvage vessel or Noah’s Arc. The devil is in the detail however; the imagery reveals that, in our rush to discover pastures new or to escape the exhausted and derelict, we bring with us unwanted passengers, be they stowaways in the form of non indigenous species, viruses, and voracious technologies, or simply our own inadequacies.

Trees become intertwined with storm clouds, fumes from factory chimneys intermix with streams of water, figures are engulfed by the waves. The images are inverted on each side of the boat and reflected underneath on mirror board, inescapable, endlessly repeatable.

The laser cutter exactly mimics the idiosyncrasies of my drawing and will endlessly cut and recut at the touch of a button, scorching the edges of the card with intermittent and incessant devilish flashes of light, burning the image into memory as if in  warning or chastisement.”

Laser cutting has allowed me to explore a range of different materials, to cut in much more detail and produce identical pieces in different sizes that can be systematically subverted.

This work is currently on display at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Statement

Combining the mass produced and the unique can be humorous and ironical, full of suggestion and contradiction.

I am interested in the processes of reproduction (printmaking, digital media, collage, photocopies) and also in the theme of reproduction, specifically with reference to biotechnology, genetics, sex and consumerism. My work is also informed by the ethical debates surrounding biotechnology, and the relationship between image and paper engineering.

Printed images and multiples enable a process of vulgarisation, undermine the obsession with originality, so that content becomes the primary concern. The repetition of the same imagery echoes our obsession with labels and brands as assurances of quality and also, paradoxically, echoes our fears provoked by images of cloning and other genetic interventions.

Traditionally a printmaker is to be congratulated on his or her skill in producing a perfect edition, but I have always found this to be a very mechanical approach and am much more interested in subverting the idea, in the imperfect edition.  

My starting point often comes from commercial packaging which I customise. Individual structures can become units in a giant construction set, with the potential for endless configurations and reworkings according to context. Installations often begin as small units, subject to systematic modifications, which colonise the space.

Biography

1995MA Fine Art Printmaking, Camberwell College of Arts
1995Illustration, Royal College of Art
1986BA (Hons) Fine Art and French, Exeter University and Exeter College of Art & Design, Exeter
1985Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Dijon