Helen Sear Natural Fantastic

Martin Asbæk Gallery is proud to present Natural Fantastic, British visual artist Helen Sear’s second solo exhibition at the gallery. From the unfurling of the first bracken leaves on the forest floor to the falling of a giant pine Sear reanimates processes of growth and decay through multiple exposures and layers incorporating close observation and a performative approach to the act of image making.
Author Patricia Breinholm Bertram & Helen Sear
Photography Mathias Kruse Jørgensen

Helen Sear borrows the title from French surrealist Roger Caillois. Unlike other social theorists, Caillois indicated a poetic capacity inherent to nature, rather than the disenchanted, this-wordly perspective still dominant today. It is this sense of magic that Sear seeks to re-present in her work.

For the exhibition Sear has put aside the single point perspective associated with the camera lens using a domestic scanner as a recording device. Sear is drawn to the photographic medium’s inherent relationship with the index and, through recording and re-processing elements in the landscape, seeks to create a balance of existence between us and our natural surroundings.
Growing up in the countryside she learned about the diversity of plants and animals that inhabited her local environment and continues to draw on these early experiences.
In a way, Sear’s work mimics the way in which we revisit places around us – often unconsciously, by passing the same tree or shrubberies daily. At other times, we can mindfully observe the changing of seasons, evoking new feelings within.

In the series Flatbed Rococo Sear has scanned wild ferns and plants growing along the pathways of the forest near her home. In addition to their depiction in early 19th century photography, ferns are imprinted as fossils dating from over 55 million years, marking their evolutionary success.
Using a humble flatbed scanner as both camera and loom she works with the visible glitches that mark the process of scanning as if they were tangible threads, to weave both time and depth into new images of this prehistoric plant. Reminiscent of raw silk, the combination of machine and hand produces a trompe l’oeil effect, referencing the asymmetrical decorative scrolls of the Rococo style and celebrating the life force of this ancient plant.

In her monumental work Anatomy of a Tree, the artist imitates the linear movement of a scanner by walking up and down both sides of a fallen tree in the forest, taking multiple photographs as she moves across the ground, extending a human centered and static panoramic vision associated with the photographer. This method of recording and re-construction visualizes the experience of being present in nature, surrounded by the landscape that changes perspective at every step.

Helen Sear (b. 1955) studied Fine Art at Reading University and the Slade School, University College, London. Her work first came to prominence in the British Council’s exhibition De-Composition: Constructed Photography in Britain from 1991-1998, which toured extensively throughout Latin America and Eastern Europe. She represented Wales with a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and her work has recently been purchased by The British Government Art Collection and the Hyman Collection. Other collections include British Council, National Museum of Wales, Al Dabbah Group Art Collection, Manfred Heiting  Collection Museum of Fine Art Houston Texas and the DZ Bank Frankfur,t Germany. She has been invited to make a solo presentation for the 19th edition of Fotographia Europa 2024 in Reggio Emilia, Italy, as part of the exhibition Nature Loves to Hide.