Kate Blacker

Made in ‘84


Not on display

Kate Blacker born 1955
Painted steel
Object: 2870 × 1525 × 580 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Display caption

Blacker's sculptures of the early 1980s were often made using discarded materials, such as corrugated iron sheeting. She painted figures on them, using the contours and folds of the sheets as she found them. Some, like 'Made in '84' are more complex and are made of several separate parts joined together. The final figures are witty and inventive and mark an overlap between the activities of painting and sculpture. In this work, the surface of the corrugated sheet is covered in images of electronic components. These partly conceal the standing figure 'wrapped' in the crumpled metal.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T04911 Made in '84 1984

Oil on galvanised steel 2870 × 1525 × 580 (113 × 60 × 23)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Exh: Kate Blacker Skulpturen, Galerie Grita Insam, Vienna, May–June 1984 (no cat.); Space Invaders, Mackenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Feb.–March 1985 (no number, repr. p.18 in col.); A Decade of Collecting: Patrons of New Art Gifts 1983–1993, Tate Gallery, Dec. 1993–Jan. 1994 (no number, repr. on cover in col.)
Lit: Kate Blacker and Sandy Nairne, ‘Kate Blacker’ in Space Invaders, exh. cat., Mackenzie Art Gallery, Saskatchewan 1985, pp.19–25, repr. p.18 in col.; Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1986–7, 1987, p.16, repr.; Andrew Wilson, Kate Blacker, exh. cat., John Hansard Gallery, Southampton 1993, [p.7]; Richard Cork, ‘Patrons of Rare Vision’, Times, 21 Dec. 1993, p.25

This sculpture is made from two sheets of corrugated metal, one set horizontally and one set vertically, which have been hand-painted by the artist. The vertical sheet is painted with the subject of a tall female figure with brown hair, wearing a green and blue patterned full-length coat over a yellow dress. An area of yellow extends above her head, while to her left is an area of blue patterning. The horizontal sheet is painted with a pattern reminiscent of an electrical circuit in greens, ochres and black. The sculpture is fixed to the wall from the back of the horizontal sheet.

In 1980 Blacker began to use found corrugated metal for her sculptures. She explained:

The materials I use are important because I see the materials of three-dimensional work as inextricable from the image. The materials I use are the scrap of urban buildings, used metal, broken bricks and wood. They are materials taken from the land, and used for the construction of cities, dominating the landscape. Reclaiming those materials ... is a kind of resistance. It's the same sort of resistance as graffiti on corrugated metal hoardings - for me corrugated metal is the symbol of mental and visual boredom, people are driven to react against it.

(Saskatchewan exh. cat., 1985, pp.20–1)

Blacker has indicated that she generally lets the shape of the found piece of metal suggest the image that it will bear. ‘With the figure pieces I find them already shaped, as kind of deformities of society. They are the results of bulldozers and roadworks and accidents that end up on the scrap heap. They are not sculpted by me; they are just revealed through paint into the image that they take up.’ (ibid., p.25.) Blacker sees the fact that she seeks out corrugated metal ready sculpted, and makes no formal imposition upon the material, as ‘quite a feminist stance’ (conversation with the compiler, 9 February 1990). No preparatory drawings are made for her sculptures because ‘the metal imposes the form and posture of each figure’ (letter to the compiler, 25 October 1989).

T04911 was made in Vienna during the months of May and June 1984. This was Blacker's first visit to the Austrian capital. She was invited to be an artist-in-residence at the Grita Insam Gallery, Vienna, as part of a series of residencies at that gallery sponsored by the Austrian shoe company HUMANIC. The enterprise was also supported by the British Council. Her residency lasted from 25 May to 30 June 1984 and Blacker was given the gallery space in which to create her sculptures and then exhibit them. The space was divided into two, so that one half acted as studio and the other as exhibition space. There was no catalogue or handlist to accompany the exhibition. The gallery produced a private view card with a photographic reproduction of a painted corrugated metal sculpture entitled ‘One in a Million’, 1984, (repr. Kate Blacker: Some Works 1980–1985, Coracle Press Gallery 1985, pp.28, 29 in col.), a work Blacker had made before her visit to Vienna.

‘Made in '84’ was constructed in the Grita Insam Gallery from two sheets of crumpled metal found on a Viennese scrap heap. The vertical sheet already had yellow paint on it so Blacker incorporated this into the work. The pattern for the coat was ‘taken from components of the inside working of a television’, while the supporting horizontal metal piece was painted with the ‘map-like network found on the back of a television set’ (letter, 25 October 1989). After she had painted the horizontal arm area of T04911, Blacker felt that it reminded her of an aerial view of a park or a garden, and she liked the way this gave the figure a feeling of being site-based. ‘The repeating pattern [of the coat] reinstates the idea of the repeating form of the corrugated iron before its deformation.’ (ibid.) Blacker feels that corrugated metal, often used in prefabricated buildings, has a ‘temporary nomadic’ element to it. She wanted her figure sculptures to seem ‘nomadic’ and the way they can do this is by ‘having their settings with them’ (conversation, 9 February 1990). Blacker acknowledges that the painted coat fabric of T04911 bears a resemblance to ‘Vienna Secessionist fabrics’. Blacker wrote of possible influences from Viennese art: ‘If there is reference to Klimt it is as counter action. There is no symbolism in the patterns I have chosen. Klimt's women are suffocated by snake imagery etc. His work is mistrustful and anti-women.’ The title of ‘Made in '84’ was meant to offer an ironic reference to phrases such as ‘Made in Taiwan’, often found on electronic items.

‘Made in '84’ is one of five sculptures of female figures by Blacker which comprise a series called ‘Women of the World’, and which was started before her visit to Vienna. ‘All five pieces share equal importance in the series. The series is now finished.’ (letter, 25 October 1989.) Three of the series were made in 1984, two during the residency at the Grita Insam Gallery. ‘One in a Million’ (Musée de Tournus, France) was made prior to the Vienna residency, while T04911 and ‘Made in Vienna’ (private collection, repr. Coracle Press Gallery exh. cat., 1985, p.23 in col.), were made at the Gallery. The other two, ‘In Green’ (private collection, Zürich, repr. ibid., pp.32, 33 in col.), and ‘A Step Apart’ (Ministry of Culture, France, repr. Kate Blacker: Once Removed, exh. cat., Musée de Valence 1985, p.31) were made in 1985 in Blacker's studio in London. All five sculptures in Blacker's ‘Women of the World’ series comprise two distinct elements: a larger crumpled sheet painted with the figure of the women, and a smaller configuration of metal painted to give an indication of their setting. When asked if they were in any sense based on Blacker herself, she replied, ‘I mostly use myself for the features of the faces. However they are not autobiographical or self-portraits’ (letter, 25 October 1989).

Although Blacker's series ‘Women of the World’ - ‘a slogan-like title’ (ibid.) - comprises five sculptures with the female figure as their subject, it was not the first time that she had worked with this subject and in corrugated metal. The first female figure in corrugated metal was ‘Geisha’ (repr. Coracle Press exh. cat., 1985, p.5 in col.), made in 1981 and bought by the Contemporary Art Society in 1985.

When I made the ‘Geisha’, she came out of the blue. As well as making mountains I had been making men in the landscape; images of territorialist men in the uniform of explorers, reading maps, which were painted like aerial views of the land ... I was more concerned with the male stereotype, because I'd been working with landscape and thinking about using urban materials to make landscapes. The ‘Geisha’ just emerged out of the metal. I'd found it already bent by a bulldozer, it happened as a surprise, and became a very important piece for me.

(Saskatchewan exh. cat., 1985, p.20)

‘Geisha’ was of great importance for Blacker because the work introduced questions about stereotypical representations of women. All Blacker's female figures made since 1981 have been executed ‘specifically to alleviate the symbolical and allegorical representations for which the female figure was used during history’ (letter, 25 October 1989). Historically, sculptures of the female form set in urban environments have been pressed into the representation of such abstract concepts as Justice and Liberty. Trained in the arts of music, dancing and conversation, so that she can become the perfect social companion for Japanese men, a geisha was seen by Blacker as a manifestation of a particular female stereotype.

In 1984 Blacker was contacted by the author Marina Warner who was then working on her book Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, published in 1985. Warner's book, according to the dust-wrapper, examined the ‘ways in which images of women have been used in representation and symbolism, and how this has affected our ideas of femaleness’. Warner was asking the same questions in her literary research as Blacker was in her contemporary sculptures. Invited to make a film based on her research for the book for Channel 4 television, Warner interviewed six contemporary British women working in the creative arts, including Blacker. Produced by Gena Newson and broadcast in the South Bank Show series, the film was called ‘Imaginary Women’. Blacker was filmed making the sculpture ‘One in a Million’. The other five women were the artists Helen Chadwick, Susan Hiller and Rose Garrard, the fashion designer Katherine Hamnett, and the dancer Gaby Agis.

‘Made in '84’ is the only one of the five ‘Women of the World’ sculptures to be fixed to the wall; all the others are free-standing. The other four comprise a figure painted onto a crumpled corrugated metal sheet which sits within a base made from flat metal sheets. These bases are painted with a pattern of skyscrapers and other architectural imagery. The painted fabrics of the other four also make reference to Viennese Secessionist fabrics, particularly the dress of the figure in ‘Made in Vienna’. To date Blacker has made over twenty sculptures of female figures.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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