Sunday, 26 June 2011

Karla Black - Scotland + Venice

The Venice Biennale is a lot like the most fantastic sweet shop, one is horribly spoiled for choice. It takes some while to digest the fayre and come to a sensible conclusion about what one has seen and experienced.  Possibly my favourite confection was sculptor, Karla Black at the Scottish Pavilion. I'm using that analogy for good purpose, because the work itself actually does have the feeling of confectionary or 'Lush' cosmetics.

I had trouble finding the Scottish Pavilion, it is placed in a confusing little maze of streets and on my first attempt I found it just as the door was locked for the evening. Undeterred, I headed back the next morning and it STILL took me ages to find it...and then climb the endless stairs. I wasn't feeling terribly well disposed for a positive experience, but even before I reached the door I could smell the artwork - fizzy, fruity, soapy cosmetics. Walking in to the show I was confronted with an absurd and lovely landscape of pastel colours, towers and bulbous paper forms, powdery sugar like pigments, oversized cellophane wrapping and drapes of plastic. The network of little rooms either side of the main gallery space housed paper works suspended in space and fields of brown soil populated with big sculptural blocks of soap.

Karla Black calls these works 'almost objects' and considers them to be '...caught between thoughtless gestures and seriously obsessive attempts at beauty.' They are unashamedly about material, physical stuff - they are thoroughly sensual and tactile. The main space at the 15th Century Palazzo Pisani which houses the show is decorated in unusual ice-cream colours, I asked the attendant if Karla Black had responded to this with the work, but she assured me that the connection was purely serendipitous. If so, it's a lovely, playful exchange.

The show made me that ok??  Playful, honest joyfulness is relatively thin on the ground in the artworld - it feels almost wrong. I was delighted with the femininity of the work - feminine not feminist, it manages to transcend the angst of feminism and the issues of being a female artist, it is effortlessly confident and assertive. On a deeper level Black is using ideas about psychology and quantum science, and these concepts are perfectly realised in the work but cleverly balanced with its pure materiality.

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