Parafin is pleased to present an exhibition by the Swiss artist Andrea Heller (born 1975, Zurich). It is Heller’s first solo show with the gallery and follows on from her participation in ‘Secret of Lightness’ at Parafin in 2022.
Heller’s work might be characterised as ‘serious play’. Working in a wide range of media, including paintings and drawings on paper and fabric as well as sculptures in ceramic, plaster and glass, Heller embraces contradictory impulses. Her work evokes a series of dialectics: organic and geometric, inside and outside, ugly and beautiful, playful and threatening, hard and soft. She is interested in the metaphoric implications of her seemingly abstract images and objects, which can be read as bodies, beings, architectural structures, enclosures or landscapes. Such readings lead us to reflect upon the conditions of existence, on instability and mutability, and the environments we occupy. The molten glass form that sags under its own weight, the crystalline structure that could be either a vast and extravagant architectural fantasy or a microscopic cellular form, the ink that bleeds across a seemingly impermeable border, are all metaphors for social constructions and architectures and their relations to the human body.
Moreover, Heller’s choice of title for exhibition is suggestive. We inhabit a body but a landscape or architectural structure might also be an ‘habitat’ or ‘inhabitation’. In a further layering, the title might refer to something we do ‘in habit’, i.e. again and again, repetitively, over and over; a possible reflection on the artist’s process.
Drawing is at the centre of Heller’s practice. In her images a world of fragile landscapes, associative traces and anthropomorphic hybrid creatures unfolds. Colour gradations in watercolour and ink develop into complex objects and forms, that oscillate between different scales. Heller develops her works on the basis of found visual material that she comes across in books, newspapers or the internet. What interests her is the formal construction of images. For example, the way in which from a birds’ eye view a settlement is inscribed in the desert as though it were a drawing, or a wall draws a line through a landscape, splitting it. She looks for a principle or set of rules that define such constructs, and then explores them in her work.
The series ‘Zones’ (2021) comprises of more than twenty small reliefs. Heller made negative moulds in clay, coloured plaster with ink and poured the material into delimited areas. She was thinking about the ways in which people ‘intervene in territories, how they mark them out or demarcate themselves.’ As in all Heller’s work, the ‘Zones’ deal with fundamental social themes such as ‘protection/shelter vs. repression/deconstruction, in relation to space and landscape.’
The potentially sinister-looking sculptural work, Untitled (2007–present), is composed of pompons made from black wool. The work is different every time it is presented as, firstly, it responds to the specifics of its new home and, secondly, it is constantly growing as the artist adds to it. As a result, the pompons take on a meaning very different to that of a comforting ball of wool. Even if their appearance recalls a soft toy or creature, their proliferation is more suggestive of mushrooms, mould, spreading viral cells or a colony of tiny living beings who bunch together in hordes around, for example, a source of heat.
Heller’s new glass sculptures, entitled ‘Receptors’ (2023), embody her approach:
‘The ‘Receptors’ (2023) refer to internal processes of the (human) body which we hardly pay attention to in everyday life. They are based on considerations of sensory perception. In their form, the objects are reminiscent of sensory buds or receptor cells that have one or more openings/holes through which the outside communicates with the inside and vice versa. We explicitly expose ourselves to intensified sensory perceptions when we visit an exhibition, for example. At the moment when the ‘receptors’ are looked at, we receive inner and outer impulses, which in turn are able to trigger emotions, thoughts, memories…’
Moreover, the material process of their making is important:
‘Becoming aware of one’s sense buds at this moment, results in a kind of snapshot of this train of thought. The glass also hardens in a kind of snapshot of hot state organic tension as it cools.’
After a graphic arts training in Zurich, Andrea Heller studied fine arts from 1998 to 2003 at the HfBK in Hamburg and at the zhdk in Zurich. Since 1999, she has exhibited in Switzerland and internationally. Solo exhibitions include Kunsthaus Centre d‘art Pasquart, Biel (2019), the Museum Franz Gertsch, Burgdorf (2015) and Helmhaus Zurich (2012). Recent group exhibitions include Parafin, London (2022), Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau (2022), Kunstmuseum Thun (2022) and Museum zu Allerheiligen, Schaffhausen (2018). Her works are held in public and private collections internationally.