A New Show Takes Inspiration From the Same Idea That Drove Duchamp and the Dadaists

For Hilda Hellström’s latest exhibition at Étage Projects, opening this Friday, the Swedish-born, Copenhagen-based artist looked to a rather unusual source for inspiration: a semi-obscure literary idea known as “pataphysics,” popularized by the 19th-century French poet and playwright Alfred Jarry (and once memorably referred to as “your favorite cult artist’s favorite pseudoscience” by Pitchfork). Pataphysics is a philosophy that gives credence to that which exists even beyond the metaphysical realm — in other words, the imaginary, the irrational, and the unreal. The idea once inspired everyone from Marcel Duchamp to Groucho Marx, but for Hellström, it was a natural extension of a practice that has always questioned our perception of reality. In her new body of work, Hellström still works within a familiar framework, often using an acrylic-based plaster to mimic the properties of marble and stone. But here she adds artifacts from the natural world as well, further blurring the line between what we consider real or fake.

It has always been difficult to pin down whether Hellström belongs to the world of art or design. But as the gallery notes argue, pataphysics also gives Hellström a new realm and a new vocabulary to inhabit: “By dismantling the conventional categories of material and craft, Hellström has left tradition, and thereby definition. Always in process, and refusing to be defined, her works become beautiful hybrids existing in their own right, as imaginary solutions.”

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