Fixing Air

Hester Oerlemans


April 11 at 4 PM, 2020


April 11 till June 6, 2020


CEAC, Xiamen, China

For most of the last decade, Hester Oerlemans has been trying to fix air. Moved by the impossibility of finding form for the intangible and by a longstanding interest in the transformation of one medium to another, the Dutch artist has arrived at a series of quixotic yet critical sculptures.

Oerlemans’shiny Blobs(2020) are both bodily and abstract, an index of the invisible. Highly individualized through color and shape, they bulge irregularly and suggest both containment and expansion, control and release. The irreducible tension arises as much from the artist’s process as from her playful sense of paradox. Each sculpture begins with balloons, which Oerlemans inflates with guidance from a balloon expert. These interstitial balloon assemblages are then laboriously inserted into a larger balloon that is itself already filled with air, which is subsequently removed with a vacuum in order to finalize a form. A studied technique of blowing, sucking and knotting results in a balloons-within-a-balloon form that appears by turns familiar and unsettling. From here, Oerlemans repeatedly pours epoxy resin over the forms, reinforcing some with fiberglass and using liquid to convert rubber and air into a thin but durable layer. The balloons inside eventually deflate, releasing their air into the Blob and leaving viewers to wonder at an empty carapace, abandoned by hands that might never have been there at all.

Through the Blob sculptures and the also balloon-based Sausage series (2020),the artist experiments at the intersection of fine and applied arts. She relies on a honed understanding of both fields in order to poetically and humorously interrogate how objects inform engagement with our environments. At times, her gestures are remarkably simple: tying the ends of an elongated balloon or, in the case of SEAT (2017), heating a small plastic chair to bend it into a form that resembles the beak of a well-known cartoon character. At a moment in which minimalism has been coopted as a corporate aesthetic that encourages people to increase consumption under the guise of consuming less, Oerlemans interrupts such ideas that less is more, form follows function, or that “transparent” design has nothing to hide. As decent air quality and financial health become baseline demand sofa hyper-connected, global population, Oerlemans gestures to the unseen forces that shape our world. If at first glance the Blobs appear as harmless, discarded charms– at second, they become the hollow relics of a precarious era defined by the inflation and deflation of intangible assets.

Fixing air is a fool’s errand, but one that Oerlemans pursues to a serious end. The resulting sculptures reflect on both a universal resource that we can neither own nor live without, as well as on the desires that fuel an insatiable economy, many of which have no real substance at all.

Isabel Parkes, March 2020


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