Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Contemporary sculptor Heather Allen teases us with her little people

Heather Allen´s "White Tower" people at Art on Lake: Are they going up or down? Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Berlin-based sculptor Heather Allen says she likes teasing people who see her work, like “White Tower” at Art on Lake in Budapest.

Allen, armed with a MFA from Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, and living and working in Berlin since 2006, began making her little people of various sizes in 1997, she said in a telephone interview from Berlin.

As part of her works´ visual conundrum, she caught Art on Lake curators off balance, including Dr. Alexander Tolnay, who invited her to participate in the unique 25-sculpture, 25-EU artist, marine contemporary show that opened at Budapest´s City Park Lake on 22 May and closes on 4 September.

At first, Tolnay asked her to transplant a 1.8-meter smaller tower she possessed with only one little person on board.

Allen felt reluctant.

This would not have withstood the weather, she told me, so she specially constructed a much taller structure of painted wood with two, not one, human figures, each of which is about 90 cm tall.

So much for "little."

"White Tower" Art on Lake, Budapest Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)
Tolnay described the "White Tower" figures as climbing "higher and higher", perhaps by “sheer, blind determination,” in earlier literature available at the 22 May opening.

Another curator suggested the tower represented an oil derrick. (It´s not, Allen said.)

Most of her figures are men painted black, conveying different situations that evoke varying reactions, her goal.

Most she calls her “self-portraits.”

“The contrast between the upward thrust of the great, vertical, industrial tower and the fragility of the little people results in a remarkably convincing composition,” Art on Lake curators wrote in the show´s catalogue released this month.

In earlier literature,Tolnay likened the tower to man´s search for knowledge, “which raises more questions than it answers.”

Heather Allen (Photo courtesy of artist.)

Asked to clarify, Allen said: “How do you know the figures are going up? They could be coming down.”

“What these figures do is quite minimal but the major point is the moment of deciding what to do,” she said, referring to the central element of choice that looms in the eyes of the viewer.

Allen likes to let the viewer decide.

“They have something within themselves that is reflected in what they see, and they might go on to question that."
So her work continues to pose a question mark. 

She conceded that the tower itself is a symbol of knowledge.  “But are these figures striving for something on a tower chopped off at the top? Or, why are they escaping from the water?”

As you will see in her official website, Allen is no stranger to Budapest. 

In 2005, as an artist in residence, she lived and worked there.

Allen has participated in more than 37 public exhibitions, more than 19 solo shows and about 32 group ones, according to the artist.

Allen today (25 August) opened a show at BBG Pacelliallee 3 in Berlin of 14 small-scale works on a wall, plinths that hang on a wall, the artist said.

"Girls on Metal" by Heather Allen (2011) aluminium/sculpey 70 x 100 x 29 cm. Photo courtesy of artist

"Metal Ladder" (2011) by Heather Allen, aluminium/steel wire 120 x 5 x 3.5 cm. Photo courtesy of artist

"Man and Woman" (2011) by Heather Allen, painted bronze 16 cm high Photo courtesy of artist

The show, “Heather Allen/Astrid Lincke-Zukunft ´Plastiche Werke´" opens 25 August and runs through 1 December.

Then, on 24 – 25 September, she joins 18 other artists for a two day contemporary art happening of painting, sculpture, film, performance, music and Joey´s unbezahlBAR for Dirty Fingers, an exhibition for the Wedding Kulturfestival,  Die Wiesenburg (pre-WW2 asylum for the homeless), Wiesenstrasse 55, 13357 Berlin. 

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

ArtTraveler notes:

After living at the Hotel Queen Mary in Budapest (3.5 stars), I heartily recommend it: old on the outside, otherwise totally modern (23 rooms); 

The owner and staff are affable and speak English and German. Tel: 0036-1-413-3510;;

Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. 

"Spanish Life Stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

You may reach me at or by calling (34) 915 067 703 or from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.  

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