Karla Black’s work draws from a multiplicity of artistic traditions from expressionist painting, land art, performance, to formalism. Her large-scale sculptures incorporate modest everyday substances, along with very traditional art-making materials to create abstract formations. Black chooses her media for their tactile aesthetic appeal: the familiarity of the texture of cellophane or the scent of cosmetics bridges the experience of tangible matter with the intimacy of memory or the subconscious. Black’s process is intensely physical and this energy is conveyed through her work’s ‘impromptu’ staging; this suggestion of performance psychologically involves the viewer with the making process, provoking instinctive responses to her precarious assemblages.
Black’s approach to sculpture is often described as holistic: her assemblages are more than the sum of their parts, each element interconnects physical, psychological, and theoretical stimuli which are both self-referential and relate to art as a wider-world experience. Her work absorbs art historical influences such as Joseph Beuys’s social sculpture and Eva Hesse’s organic minimalism. In Unpreventable Within, a large blanket of cling film is draped across the floor; a watery, landscape terrain, it evokes both vulnerability and protection. Coated with baby oil gel and paint, the liquid balms the surface and collects in its crevices as pools, creating a microcosmic ecology suggestive of generation and sustainability.
Spanning the gallery as a floating ‘painting’, Black’s Made To Wait hovers in the space less as an object than a screen: an almost invisible field of cellophane, a translucent divide or portal that makes the view through it seem strangely distant or unreal. The bottom edge of the sheeting is coated in paint, interspersed with common drug store cosmetics: tooth-paste, moisturiser, hair gel, and nail varnish, creamy substances of surface beauty. For Black, these materials become synonymous with a civlised veneer; an allusion to painting, as well as to personal maintenance and improvement, converging subconscious expression with actual embodiment. In Made To Wait these ideas become inherent, almost as an anchor, in the piece’s literal and metaphoric suspension which blurs the bounds between perception and introspection, self-cognition and otherness.
Black explains her haptic approach to making in relation to psychology, and cites Melanie Klein’s play technique – a method used to analyse very young children through their negotiation of the physical world rather than through language – as a contextual source. For Black, this sublingual articulation mirrors the sculptural process and offers the possibility for the work to achieve its own communication and agency. Nothing Is A Must is made from chalked sugar paper. It’s uplifted exaggerated form is like an open bag, made simultaneously monumental and flaccid.
By Jérôme Nadeau for Studio SPG