Come Helga is a sculpture comprising two similar standing figures presented on a large plinth, under a rectangular Perspex cover. The figures are female and closely resemble each other in body type and pose, suggesting twins. Warren modelled each figure on a square MDF base from NewClay, a type of modelling clay that does not need to be fired but hardens with time, over a steel armature. The clay has been protected with clear varnish. The figure on the left is unpainted; that on the right has been partially coloured with white, blue, yellow and pink acrylic. Warren’s method of sculpting is loose and expressive. The figures’ short skirts and the large bows that top their heads are squeezed and compressed sheets of clay; their characteristic giant shoes, muscly legs, skinny arms and pony tails bear many marks of the artist’s fingers pressing and pulling the material. Like all Warren’s sculpted female figures, the two girls evoke the extremes of cartoons, such as those portrayed by the American cartoonist Robert Crumb (born 1943). Warren made overt her artistic inheritance from Crumb in the title of an earlier sculpture, Homage to R. Crumb, My Father, 2003. Her first, and most overtly sexualised, clay work is titled Helmut Crumb, 1998, uniting Crumb’s aesthetic, and his name, with that of the German photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004).
The female figures in Crumb’s cartoons are typically Amazonian in scale, with enlarged pneumatic breasts, tiny waists and broad hips that overwhelm a host of pathetic, small male figures, often representing the cartoonist. Newton, famous for photographing women, brought a strongly fetishising or objectifying eroticism into his images. Warren’s figures draw from these worlds, while taking an ambiguous position in relation to the issue of feminine objectification traditional to sculpture. A group of seven figures exhibited in 2003 under the group title She are large, voluptuous and virtually headless ladies in more or less realistic variations. Oversized breasts with teat-like nipples, strong chunky legs and prominent, curved buttocks speak of female sexual power that is only partially belied by the figures’ tiny or absent heads. All of these characters, as is typical to Warren’s large figures, stand on sculptors’ trolleys (the wooden base, essential to their structural creation, attached to wheels), enhancing a sense of the possibility for dynamic movement. By contrast, Warren’s smaller figures, such as those portrayed in Come, Helga and in an earlier related work, The Twins, 2004, stand on their boards on a plinth which is often pastel coloured. That forming the base to Come, Helga is a pale, rose pink. The twin-figures in both works are protected by a large Perspex cover with a Perspex wall in the centre that separates them. This has an isolating and distancing effect on the figures which gives them a different status from the bare and mobile giant She figures; they evoke the smaller plaster studies made by such sculptural masters as Rodin (1840-1917) in the process of developing a larger work.
A significant precedent to She, the striding form of an earlier sculpture, Croccioni, 2000, recalls that of the mechanised body depicted in Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913/1972, by Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916). Warren has described her relationship to the male artists she refers to in her work as:
one of influence and allowing yourself to be influenced. Of course there is a real hardcore drive of iconoclasm in there too – that basic idea of wanting to kill your father, and general oedipal revolt. It’s also about finding a way to be expressive. Expression is perceived as a problem. One way of negotiating that is to re-use existing idioms that are accepted as being expressive.
(Quoted in Rebecca Warren: Dark Passage, p.21.)
The pose assumed by the figures in The Twins is based on that of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1880-1 (see Tate N06076), the best known sculpture by Edward Degas (1834-1917). Originally created in wax, the sculpture was posthumously cast in bronze, in a large edition, by the artist’s heirs. In the original wax, as in the later bronze versions, the dancer’s tutu is gauze and her hair ribbon is silk. In Warren’s Come, Helga version of Degas’s work, the bows have assumed monstrous proportions, dominating the figures’ heads. The skirt has become an apron, revealing bare buttocks behind. No longer slender, elegant and vulnerable, Warren’s figures have mutated into clumpy, eroticised pillars of flesh that aggressively challenge the viewer. The girl on the right has one hand on a hip, emphasising this mood. Presented as a pair, the figures support each other as allies.
Warren draws on a range of sources for her titles – songs, films, names, works by other artists, puns and even made-up words – which are associative rather than descriptive. Come, Helga was shortened from a longer title and refers to a dialogue between two separate parts of a whole. The near identical characteristics of the two figures means that it is not possible to distinguish one as being more original than the other, highlighting questions of authenticity that are an increasing focus in the artist’s work.
Rebecca Warren: Dark Passage, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Zürich 2004.
Turner Prize 2006, exhibition brochure, Tate Britain 2006, [pp.12-13] and [p.15], reproduced [p.12] in colour.