Karla Black: Sculptures
While these new sculptures comprise Karla Black’s now familiar array of nebulous materials – chalk dust, eye shadow, sugar paper – they command a more distinct level of authority than has previously been seen. Her impermanent sculptures transcend figuration, reference, and are much more than the sum of their parts. This shift in Black’s practice is slight, but when viewed on this scale, the advance is notable, and while the collected works create a landscape of sorts, each resists the categorisation of ‘installation’.
If Black’s ongoing explorations of the collapse of conventional sculpture have previously been marred by blurred political responses, these abstract sculptures, above all, prioritise material experience. Having said that, Sculptures has also got a lot to do with painting. And so Black’s brilliance unfolds – assertion is almost always coupled with ambivalence.
Laying firm foundations, ‘Left Right Left Right’ is a large mound of earth spread over the floor of the first room. A thick, weighty slab-like mass veiled with pale plaster powder and spray paint, tiny green shoots can be seen sprouting from the dirt. Reining in natural energies and combining them with her own, fearlessly personal formalism, Black’s work is not only concerned with weight and form, but surface. ‘Better’, a floor-based sculpture made from two types of Gaviscon, signals a continued pleasure in the processes of making – mixing, pouring and touching. Black indulges further with the sheer joys of materiality and aesthetics with the perfectly poised pale green sugar paper structure, ‘Demands Unfocus’ and the glacial plaster-powder sculpture, ‘Acceptance Changes Nothing’.
Sculptures is accompanied a room of abstract landscapes by Scottish artist Bet Low (1924-2007) and a selection of quotes from writer Andrew Greig. With relation to the open Orkney landscape, Grieg suggests, ‘Gradually you move from the kind of conceptual realm we normally live in – this ghost in the head – into one’s physical being’. Otherwise text-less, Black’s inclusion of these extracts creates a beguiling and telling dialogue between her own formalism and that of the painter’s. Physical, pre-linguistic communication remains central to Black’s practice; a conceit made to feel all the more present with her incredible new sculptures.
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until Sun 14 Feb