Karla Black In Focus


A closer look at Turner Prize 2011 nominee Karla Black


Although officially dubbed a sculptor, Black’s exhibited work seems to defy classification, simultaneously occupying the regions of painting, sculpture, and performance. Upon passing through a maze of fragile polythene and paint-cracked curtains, the viewer is met with a monumental mountain range constructed out of crumpled sugar paper that fills the room. These contours are sensually coloured in pastel hues.


Black’s work is known for mixing both traditional artistic media and everyday objects, and her Turner Prize piece ‘More of Today’ is no exception, with sugar paper and pastels found alongside bath bombs and make-up. Although the soft lines and muted colours found in her work have previously prompted more than one critic to describe her work as ‘feminine’, this is  an adjective that Black is keen to avoid, branding this interpretation of her art ‘ridiculous and annoying’ at this year’s Venice Biennale. According to Black, the fact that she chooses to use toileteries typically associated with women does not constitute a comment on feminism, or in fact a comment on anything; Black states that her works do not ‘point outside of themselves with language’. The desire to incorporate these objects into her work, then, is a physical one; these are things she ‘can’t help but use’.


Indeed, a concern with the visceral rather than the metaphorical is highly significant in the conceptual background to Black’s art; her work is informed by Melanie Klein’s Jungian psychoanalytical studies of pre-linguistic infants and their relationship with the malleable material world. Black invites her audience to revisit this experience themselves through her work by making it traversable; the viewer is invited into the folds of the canvass to become immersed within the piece. Through this direct physical involvement with her work, Black prompts us to regress and return to our pre-linguistic, infantile pleasure in tactility.  As spectators, our contact with the work also serves to emphasise its fragility: the nature of this piece means that it will inevitably become somewhat altered as visitors to the Turner exhibition tramp through the gallery in their masses; moreover, it will remain intact only as long as the Turner exhibition is running.


Karla Black was born in Alexandria, Scotland in 1972, making her the youngest entrant to this year’s Turner Prize. Like fellow nominee Martin Boyce, Black studied at the Glasgow School of Art – completing her MA in 2004 – and remains living and working in the city.  




Words: Maddie Bates / Photo: Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst


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