Karla Black

At Fault


Not on display

Karla Black born 1972
Cellophane, paint, sellotape, plaster powder, powder paint, sugar paper, chalk, bath bombs, ribbon and wood
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with assistance from Outset Contemporary Art Fund 2013


At Fault is a large, floor-based sculpture that was made for Karla Black’s exhibition at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 where she represented Scotland. Large quantities of crumpled sugar paper billow across the floor with a softness that is suggestive of twisting folds of fabric. The paper is covered in a vigorous application of chalk in different pastel shades typically associated with prettiness. The chalked surfaces merge with scattered powder paint on the floor so that there is an uncertainty about where the solidity of the sculpture ends. Despite the sense of movement in the piece and its insistent, almost visceral presence, the work oscillates between materiality and immateriality.

This combination of ethereal lightness with an uncompromising materiality lies at the heart of Karla Black’s work. Her work falls mainly, although not exclusively, into three groups: hanging pieces, such as Vanity Matters 2009 (Tate T13282), expansive floor-based works made of such materials as earth and powder, and works made from crumpled, billowing paper and cellophane, such as At Fault. Sugar paper, polythene and plaster powder dominate her work, but Black also often includes basic toiletry substances that make reference to the body, such as athlete’s foot powder, talcum powder, petroleum jelly, lipstick, nail varnish, glitter hairspray, moisturising cream and make-up.

Black has acknowledged that her sculptures are rooted in a number of art historical antecedents, as well as in her interest in psychoanalytical theory, particularly the work of Melanie Klein (1882–1960) who pioneered early developments in child psychology. She has said of her work:

The sculptures are rooted in Psychoanalysis and Feminism; in theories about the violent and sexual underpinnings of both individual mental mess, as in neuroses and psychosis, and the formlessness of specific points in art history, i.e. German and Abstract Expressionism, Viennese Actionism, Land Art, Anti-form and Feminist Performance.
(Quoted in ‘Karla Black Speaks About Her Work’, http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/artsinscotland/visualarts/projects/projectsarchive/karlablack.aspx, accessed 8 June 2010.)

Further reading
Michael Archer, ‘Michael Archer on Karla Black’, Artforum, vol.46, no.7, March 2008, pp.342–4.
‘Interview: Karla Black and Michael Stanley, Director, Modern Art Oxford’, in Karla Black, exhibition guide, Modern Art Oxford 2010.
Karla Black: Scotland + Venice 2011, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 2011, reproduced pp.4–11.

Helen Delaney
August 2011

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