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HELEN BARFF | NEW FELT-COVERED STONE SCULPTURAL WORK

September 7th 2013
Usually with works of art, the unsaid rule is generally to ‘look but don’t touch’. Helen Barff’s new sculptural works however are different. Consisting of stones she’s found on the shores of the Thames near to her home which she’s then covered in felt, these objects are intended to be picked up and handled (providing hands are clean!). Helen said she was once told a German word in response to the stones; she can’t recall the actual word but it translates as ‘hand-ability’ and describes an object that fits comfortably in the hand, and to some extent this is a large part of what these works are about.

Helen has been collecting stones for a number of years from various locations. For her each stone represents a memory of a place and time - something that anyone who has ever taken a keepsake from a day on the beach can relate to. She’s fascinated by the fact that every stone has a different shape that’s evolved through various weather conditions, geological ages or human intervention and that no two are ever the same.

The felt that Helen uses to cover the stones is wet down like papier-mâché, stretching around the contours of the stone as it dries until each one is completely covered. By giving them this layer of ‘skin’ it puts an emphasis on the shape and form of the objects as they transform into something quite tactile and abstract. A natural form that is normally cold and hard suddenly turns into something soft and warm, and the stone inside becomes a hidden object, like a contained secret, adding an element of mystery to the work.

Stone 01, the largest of the set here, is a typical example of stones of this size found in and around the Thames area. Weathered by the river, it has a hole in the centre - something that sailors used to believe was lucky - which almost acts as an aid to make it easier to hold in the hand. With the largest stone even more so than the smaller pieces, the felt that seamlessly covers it provides an element of surprise and contradiction. At first glance, due to the soft surface of this object it looks like it’s going to be light in weight and with a soft cushiony centre; instead the matter is solid and the weight heavy. With these works Helen is challenging our preconceptions, encouraging us to not judge or assume, and I like this.

Intelligent, well executed and conceptual, it’s not surprising Helen’s work is currently part of a group exhibition at London’s White Cube. Curated by São Paulo-based curator Adriano Pedrosa, artists were asked to submit works to be shown and be available in London for an interview with Pedrosa earlier this year. From 2,900 applicants, 38 were interviewed and from those 17 were chosen for the show. ‘Open Cube’ - for which Helen has created a series of small sculptural works that are casts of the inside of pockets, many of which have sold already - runs at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard gallery until 21st September.

See the Stones series and other work by Helen Barff on Eyestorm Helen Barff
ANGIE DAVEY
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