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. Their irreducible tension arises as much from the artist’s process as from her playful sense of paradox. Each sculpture begins by inflating balloons of various shapes and sizes. These balloon assemblages are then 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 to convert rubber and air into a thin but durable layer. The balloons inside eventually deflate, leaving viewers to wonder at an empty carapace, abandoned by hands that might never have been there at all.
Through the Blobs and the also balloon-based Sausage series (2020), the artist experiments at the intersection of fine and applied arts. She relies on both fields, making objects that are poetic and humorous. At times, her gestures are remarkably simple: she ties the ends of an elongated balloon to create a sausage or, in the case of SEAT (2017), heats the back of a plastic chair to bend it into a form that resembles the beak of a well-known cartoon character.
As clean air continues to be a baseline demand of a hyper-connected, global population, Oerlemans Blobs are gestures to the unseen forces that shape our world. If at first glance they 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.