'Giant tiramisu' is breathtaking and ludicrous in equal measure
Between Karla Black’s work and its viewer, the tension is unbearable. Rarely can inert sculptural work have exerted such a gravitational pull upon its audience, and the effect of ‘art vertigo’ it inspires just can’t be understood unless it’s seen live. ‘Empty Now’, the most striking of two pieces here, is breathtaking and ludicrous in equal measure – a huge rectangular cake of layered, tightly-packed sawdust which takes up most of the gallery’s floor space. It looks like an enormous springy mattress or a giant tiramisu, its edges sharply defined in defiance of the work’s fragility.
Touching isn’t allowed, but the work, curiously, isn’t roped off. The piece feels like one enormous dare to the people of Glasgow, or more precisely the natural mishaps that might ensue when a rogue toddler views the piece or a subway train rolls by underneath. The life of this artwork is not the time it takes to view it or the years it might be hermetically packed away in a collection, but as an evolving, decaying, living thing, from the day the show opens until the moment it closes its doors.
That Black has intervened at various points around the work with handmade dents and scars seems almost like an unnecessary intrusions, but the presence of manufactured cosmetics – a sawdust-encrusted lipstick, scattered pearls of bronzer, mascara-painted wooden sculptures – adds a compelling context, the colour of the sawdust resembling that of a tanned female body and its transient form suggesting an inevitable decay which artificial enhancements inevitably can’t counter. The second work ‘Will Attach’, swirls of nail varnish-smeared cellophane hanging from the ceiling with two hidden sacs of gel body wash – one split, one sealed – is almost inevitably not as striking, although it hangs down below eye level in places, again almost demanding the intervention of our contact.
Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until Sun 24 Jun