Helen Acosta Iglesias Subtle humour meets self-irony

Helen Acosta, benediction machine
Helen Acosta, benediction machine | Photo (detail) © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst

Blessing machines, sunken bells and Never-mind-Cups – Helen Acosta Iglesias brings faith, humour and poetry to the German art scene. And a goodly portion of irony.

Her works, says Helen Acosta Iglesias, are in fact all quite different, which perhaps makes it difficult to describe them artistically. On the one hand this is true, the works of this artist from Gran Canaria who lives in Berlin are in fact very heterogeneous, in terms of their materiality alone. In her studio, pop-style trophy cups of colourful drinking straws emerge, little blessing-machines are built out of wood and LEDs, or short-lived bathtubs of sand arise.

But the artist does not shrink from large-format sculptures and heavy material: for her work Nur Sonntagskindern hören die versunkenen Glocken (i.e. only Sunday’s children hear the sunken bells), nominated for the Halle Design Award, she sank a veritable bronze bell into a water cylinder.

Subtle humour meets self-irony

Despite these very different results of her artistic approaches with material and form, an observer soon realises that practically all of Helen Acosta Iglesias’ works have one quality in common: subtle humour. Not loud and pushy, but rather with a pinch of self-irony, a rarity in the art scene. A case in point is her winsome idea of building an almost head-high trophy cup out of brightly-coloured drinking straws and to give it to artists who, like her, have often been nominated for many an award, but were always left empty-handed.

“When I was nominated four whole times in one year and won nothing, I went and built myself a trophy cup, the ‘Never-mind-Cup.’ I award it to colleagues who are going through the same thing. Sometimes I award it with a little presentation ceremony,” says the artist cheerfully.

Ceremonies, rituals and customs

For Helen Acosta Iglesias, who is currently doing her masters at the Zurich University of the Arts and accompanies a research program on deathbed visions, ceremonies and rituals are of great interest overall: in many of her works, her interest in religious acts is mixed with her sense of humour in the best possible way. A particular example of this is her blessing machines: Acosta, who studied art in no-nonsense, north-German Hanover, simply missed the Catholic blessing ritual, a type of protection often given to people in her Canary Islands homeland. Helen Acosta Iglesias relates that she felt safe and secure from childhood on thanks to such rituals.
 
  • Helen Acosta, benediction machine Photo © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, benediction machine
  • Helen Acosta, Claudia Photo © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, Claudia
  • Helen Acosta, Claudia, Paw Photo © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, Claudia, Paw
  • Helen Acosta, Never-mind-Cup Photo © Ralf Bergel
    Helen Acosta, Never-mind-Cup
  • Helen Acosta, Sand bathtube Photo and © Ralf Bergel
    Helen Acosta, Sand bathtube
  • Helen Acosta, Sand bathtube Photo and © Ralf Bergel
    Helen Acosta, Sand bathtube
  • Helen Acosta, Eatable Bible Photo and © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, Eatable Bible
  • Helen Acosta, Eatable Bible Photo and © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, Eatable Bible
  • Helen Acosta, Sunday’s children Photo and © Helen Acosta/ VG Bild Kunst
    Helen Acosta, Sunday’s children
During her studies in Hanover she thereupon constructed a larger-scale translation of these verbal blessings: she designed a little machine of wood that at the push of a button shines a white ray of light from within onto the user’s forehead. The blessing machines were then installed for an exhibition in Hanover at various heights, “and the visitors blessed themselves so assiduously that I had to change the batteries daily,” as the artist tells it. Today, the little machines are still in use, but in a smaller setting: “I have them here for everyday household use,” says Acosta.

Not just Christian symbolism

However, Helen Acosta’s interest in religion and belief is not limited to Christian theory and sacraments. For her work “Claudia,” she found inspiration and comfort in – of all places – German superstition, with its deep mythological roots. She processed the loss of a friend in a sculpture that works with the motif of the three-legged hare. According to the Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglauben (i.e. handbook of German superstition), this creature roams about restlessly after a suicide. In her interpretation, Iglesias tries to bring peace to the hare with a prosthetic leg of glass. And the white figure of the hare laid out towards the viewer is indeed moving and touching – even without previous knowledge of the story.

The artist also deals with death and impermanence in her current work: several times during a scholarship stay in the artists’ village Schöppingen, she noticed the impressions left by pigeons that had flown against the glass window panes. Back home, she recreated these impressions with ordinary spaghetti, and thereby once again created a powerful Christian symbol, that of Christ’s resurrection out of the most profane of materials. For this work, to date untitled, she is currently nominated for the Lucas Cranach Award. It is to be hoped that she gets the prize this time, too.