Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Church Lane, Carmarthen SA31 1LH

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Karla Black & Karin Ruggaber
Oriel Myrddin, Carmarthen
25 May - 13 July 2013
Review by Ellen Bell

Published as part of the Axisweb in Wales programme for developing critical writing on the contemporary visual arts.

Karla Black’s voice, sticky with a Glaswegian burr, is emanating from the tinny speakers of a small laptop in the corner of the gallery. Black, once shortlisted for the Turner Prize, is on film, being interviewed at the 54th Venice Biennale. Her words ricochet off the almost empty walls, ‘I say that the work I make is sculpture’. Laying a heavy stress on the first ‘I’, and then on the ‘is’, her tone is strident, defensive even, as if she has had to justify what she does one too many times.

Two forms, that (who appeared to be) the gallery manager described as a ‘fragment’ of a larger work, occupy a space to one side of the room. One rests fatly on the grey floor, the other is suspended via a rough tangle of white ribbon. Two puffballs, one sealed up the other exploded - the first the pink of marshmallows, the second the pale green of guest room soap. ‘Unused To’, made in 2007, is six years old. Formed from sugar paper, chalk, toothpaste, polythene, nail varnish and ribbon, exposure to light has bleached its colour. It is not robust. Perhaps Black does not care about such things. These forms are separate from her, autonomous objects that she casts out to find their own place. Eschewing the search for meaning, she is interested solely in what she calls ‘the consequences’ of the work. ‘How does it function in the world’, she asks, ‘what does it do’’

Karin Ruggaber, a lecturer at the Slade, is represented purely by her work. ‘Slabs, 2004’ plays out like a formal study in grey - wall-hung blocks of delicately moulded concrete, a rigid porridge of stones, bits of wood and powdery cement. ‘Scarves, 2004’ is an equally ordered observation in brown. Eight squares of textile - a neat jumble of charity shop remnants, musty scraps of old men’s suits in want of a clean.

The desire to attach some sort of meaning to an object is a hard habit to break. But meaning is different to association. Black’s work conjures up kindergarten art sessions with infant fingers smearing glue, paint and glitter on cheap coloured paper, adolescent girls in upstairs bedrooms varnishing toe-nails pink and boys careering in gardens with fluoride-smeared, midge-bitten limbs, while Ruggaber’s brings forth forgotten bottom drawers and sewing boxes - a spaghetti of threads, zippers and bindings.

The film has stopped. Outside the exhibition space there is noise. Doors bang and upstairs someone is using an electric drill. Is it materiality that has brought these two artists together under one roof - Black with her egalitarian approach, un-judgementally using what is to hand and Ruggaber with her more considered selection of the appropriate’ Visitors come and go, not staying long. In this gallery’s virtual emptiness there is yet not enough space, or calm to do credit to Black’s supplication to just let the work be - be what it is, even if we don’t know what it is.

Karla Black talks about her exhibition at the 54th Venice Biennale

Courtesy of the Fruitmarket Gallery

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