Review by Marie Marie D’Elbée
‘Due to the fragile and volatile nature of the work, we kindly ask you to be extremely cautious not to damage the art as you move around the exhibition’, warns a hostess at the entrance of the Scottish pavilion.
For the 54th Venice Biennale, Karla Black amazes with a silent ballet of delicate pastel-coloured shapes which threaten to collapse under their powdery weight or to be swept away by the slightest breeze. The odd landscape reveals fields of plaster powder, make-up and clustered piles of floury paint, sugar paper topped with eye-shadow, ribbons and toothpaste. Polythene and sellotape sculptures are scattered about the pavilion with a package-like shiny transparency.
Black insists that her interest in the use of domestic materials lies in their physical properties and not in their narrative or symbolic connotations. The peculiar usage and industrial quantities of these familiar elements conjure a very unique presence and bring out previously unnoticed qualities. A precarious pile of sawdust with a perfectly flat top is echoed by a layered pyramid of topsoil or by the lofty lightness of a polystyrene volume evoking another multi-storey cake. Here and there unfurl floating crowns of colour-tinted cellophane and aerial structures of sugar paper. The walls, at times spattered with powdered paint and turf, are covered with soft colours, while in the background floats an omnipresent and distinctive smell of soap and cosmetics.
Born in Scotland in 1972, Black studied Fine Art and Philosophy at the Glasgow School of Art from which she graduated in 2004. After having worked with performance, she gradually withdrew all direct reference to bodily forms from her art. However the influence of this artistic expression can be perceived in her present day work which is deeply imprinted with movement. Black’s process and sensibility are embodied in a ‘raw creative moment’, located between painting, performance and sculpture. She refuses her work to be purely gestural, considering this to be insufficient, but takes pride in coming back to it, successively adding layers like a painter. Thus Black holds back the possibility of her work taking a definitive form, expressing a strong sensual physicality without losing the full directional potential of the untransformed materials.
Colours and shapes flow up into the air. Freed from the constraints of painting, they seem to be suspended in the present. The impermanent properties of the materials are left to metamorphose throughout time, threatened by the possibility of an imminent destruction. The contrast between the fragile nature of the works and their raw, almost brutal energy creates a mesmerizing tension.