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Karla Black - From the British Art Show to Venice

Karla Black likes making a mess. Granted her large-scale sculptures are
an organised mess straight out of some pre-school activity club
exercise in making do with every smelly material to hand, but a
glorious mess nevertheless. It's this constant child-like striving to
make order out of chaos by way of a primal imagination bursting forth
into the world that finds Black not just a highlight of this year's
British Art Show, which tours to Glasgow this month following a stint
at the Hayward in London, but also, as curated by Edinburgh's
Fruitmarket Gallery, the Scottish representative in the forthcoming
Venice Bienalle.

West Dumbartonshire-born Black may already be internationally renowned
for work that at various points has included lipstick, nail varnish,
body cream and fizzed-up Alka Seltza left out in the rain as its raw
materials, but both gigs remain pretty high profile stuff. For the
British Art Show – subtitled 'In the Days of the Comet,' Black has made
two pieces which loosely fit with curators Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom
Morton's notion of thinking about the here and now in different ways.

Brains Are Really Everything' is an eighty centimetre high, two metres
long sculpture made of different colours of soil to create striped
layers with powder paint, plaster powder and soap on its top surface.
'There Can Be No Arguments' is a hanging sculpture made of polythene
that has been shaken up in a bag with a mix of powder paint and plaster
powder to give it a light dusting of colour. If such a description
sounds like some free-form 1960s style splurge, think again, because as
Black tells it, there's a discreet but well-crafted discipline to her
work.

“The work is a result of behaving very physically in the material
world,” Black explains via email, her preferred form of conducting
interviews. “I don't work entirely instinctively. The beginning of the
process is instinctive, or unconscious, but my conscious mind,
aesthetics, formal concerns and propensity for editing come into play
fairly quickly. And then language comes in after that.”
Black studied at Glasgow School of Art between 1995 and 2004, and still
lives in the city, where she is represented by Mary Mary. Having shown
widely in Europe, as well as at The Tate in London and Inverleith House
in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, any through line in Black's work
is down to process.

“The same behaviour as is prevalent in all of the other works is in
there too,” she says of her British Art show pieces, “as is the
presence of raw material and colour.”

For Venice, Black will be working on an even larger scale, filling the
eight rooms of the fifteenth century Palazzo Pisani at the Calle del
Erbe near the Rialto Bridge, the same space occupied by Martin Boyce as
Scotland's representation in 2010. Black will work on site to make a
series of new works that aim to hover between energy and mass, and
which, by the sound of it, look set to overwhelm the space to the point
of threatening to spill out.

“I'm trying to keep the work true to its basic character of
experimentation and raw materiality,” Black says. “In Venice I will
fill the eight rooms of the palazzo with a vast amount of 'almost
objects' made of a variety of powders, creams, gels, oils and pastes,
at times directly on the floor but also on paper, cellophane and
polythene. The main challenge is trying to be very organised in advance
- it's not really possible to source any materials in Venice so
everything has to come from here, and a lot of the work has to be
modular and light because it all has to be hoisted in through a small
window. I'm getting a lot of help with organisation and logistics from
a very efficient project manager.

Beyond the British Art Show and Venice, Black will be working towards a
show of sculptures sitting alongside paintings by Georgia O'Keefe for
the Kunsthalle, Vienna in 2013. With Black's ever expanding palette now
straddling continents, then, where, one wonders, does such a primal
sense of play come from? The answer, it seems, is simple.

“From the animal that I am!” says Black.

Karla Black will show as part of British Art Show 7: In The Days of the
Comet at Tramway, Glasgow, from May 27th-August 21st. Scotland and
Venice runs at the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice
Bienalle from June 4-November 27th

The List, April 2011

ends

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