This summer I got to see lots and lots of art in our visit to Germany. In cleaning off my desk I found a brochure from one interesting exhibit at the Kunsthalle Nürnberg, which I haven't yet written about. It consisted of ten sculptures by Karla Black, an artist from Glasgow who will be representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale next year.
The pieces fall into two groups: those made primarily with paper, and those made primarily with soft, powdery substances arranged into piles.
The paper pieces are glued together, not very precisely, to make large curtains that flutter ever so slightly in the air and drape over tables.
The powdery piles range from thin layers to imposing shaped masses. The gimmick is that the powders are household substances such as face powder, eyeshadow, hairspray, sand, sawdust and topsoil. In one piece the pink powder on the floor looked like a shadow cast by a pink plastic bag hanging above it. Another was made of liquid indigestion remedies, apparently poured into a puddle and allowed to dry up and separate into leathery peelings.
What do we make of these artworks? You can easily imagine certain visitors making rude remarks along the lines of how their grandchildren could make these pieces, if they only had a wheelbarrow and a shovel. I found the more delicate piles, the pale green and the pale pink "shadow", more appealing than the bigger ones.
I read about Black on the internet today and think I understand her work a little better. She used to do performance art but now calls herself a process artist. She tries to depict "simplicity, purity, cleanness or smoothness" in her choice of materials and says "I make different configurations with or from mess or formless matter." Previous exhibits focused more on feminist concerns than this one does, although you can still see clues that the artist is a woman.
She explains that while there's still an element of performance art to the way she constructs her pieces, they go beyond performance to sculpture. "There is always intent, a support (plinth/frame/stage/ structure), and evidence of a decision-making process; the finished things are almost objects, or only just objects."
Do I want one in my living room? No, although the sawdust pile would just about match my sofa. But the installation has given me something to think about, namely how the use of certain materials brings with it the entire baggage of those materials in their everyday context. Just as face powder and over-the-counter medicines have a homey, feminine connotation that comes with them into the gallery, we fiber artists can never escape the homey, feminine connotations of our materials.
So I got a good think out of the deal, and what more can you ask from your art?