British Art Show 2011 - Karla Black interview
Scottish artist with work at BAS7 and the upcoming Venice Biennale
Representing a cross-section of the best of the nation's contemporary artists (including a sizeable chunk of Scottish talent), the British Art Show is touring to Glasgow for the first time in 21 years. Neil Cooper talks to Karla Black whose work will appear both in BAS7 and the upcoming Venice Biennale
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 material that’s 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 makes 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 Biennale.
West Dunbartonshire-born Black may already be internationally renowned for work that at various points has included lipstick, nail varnish, body cream and Alka-Seltzer left out to fizz up in the rain as its raw materials, but both gigs remain pretty high profile. 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 notions of thinking about the here and now in different ways.
‘Brains Are Really Everything’ is an 80cm-high, two metre-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’ (above) 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 and still lives in the city. 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 15th century Palazzo Pisani at the Calle del Erbe near the Rialto Bridge, the space occupied by Martin Boyce in 2010. Black will work on site to make new works that hover between energy and mass, and which 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,’ says Black. ‘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 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, where, one wonders, does such a primal sense of play come from? Black’s answer is simple.
‘From the animal that I am!’
Karla Black, Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 27 May–Sat 21 Aug. Part of the British Art Show 7 in Glasgow, which also takes place at CCA and Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).