Berlin

Karla Black, Locked (detail), 2010, cellophane, Scotch tape, ribbon, polystyrene, plaster, paint, soap. Overall dimensions variable (sculpture 20 7/8 x 21 1/4 x 28 1/2").

Karla Black, Locked (detail), 2010, cellophane, Scotch tape, ribbon, polystyrene, plaster, paint, soap. Overall dimensions variable (sculpture 20 7/8 x 21 1/4 x 28 1/2").

Karla Black

Capitain Petzel

Karla Black, Locked (detail), 2010, cellophane, Scotch tape, ribbon, polystyrene, plaster, paint, soap. Overall dimensions variable (sculpture 20 7/8 x 21 1/4 x 28 1/2").

In recent years Karla Black has become famous for sculptures made of untreated, pastel-colored powdered plaster, ghostly accumulations of plastic sheeting that appear to have been casually, carelessly left to hang in midair, and incredibly fragile-looking paper objects that can stand up on their own but look as if even the slightest breeze would topple them. In short, she has been exploring the ephemeral qualities of enduring transitional states, which she has inscribed in the floury or scraggy bodies of sculptures that are balanced perfectly on the edge between form and anti-form. Her recent show in Berlin was no exception—there was a crumpled paper sculpture; a mobile-like ensemble composed of apparently free-floating sheets of paper that fluctuated between object and picture, space and surface; and a sod installation that gradually dried out over the course of the show. Mostly, though, there were huge hanging plastic-sheeting works and heaps of pastel-tinted powder. And yet something was perceptibly different.

This time, the sheeting sculptures—with their delicate hues, sometimes painted on in little dots, and their overall impression of knottedness and entanglement—didn’t appear as abstract and ghostly as before: Rather, they suggested decorative gift wrap. And this more overt referentiality, unusual for Black, was taken up in narrative terms in some works of a new type, in which she used a layering technique to build little rectangular or sometimes triangular towers of what looks like pink and dark-brown sediment—actually blocks of polystyrene glued together and covered with a mixture of mud and glue: pieces that no longer emit the free-floating charm of the ephemeral but have a fixed form. One of them additionally bears on its uppermost layers colorful decorations made of little bits of soap that look like pieces of candy. Suddenly Black’s sculpture began to seem representational, tempting us to view these works as calorie-filled special-occasion cakes, and the exhibition itself as a huge pastry shop, a sort of oversize fairy-tale confectioner’s conveyor belt, which began with the little piles of ingredients, passed by the flour traces that Black intentionally left on the walls and floors, and finally reached the finished cake product along with suitable packaging.

The unity of this bakery mise-en-scène struck me as central to the functioning of the show, which seemed not only more fixed and concrete materially than Black’s earlier work but also much more explicit in its message. In the past, Black has presented her work as vaguely situated somewhere between Abstract Expressionism, Land art, Kleinian psychoanalysis, and feminist performance, evoking a pre-linguistic physical object-experience but accompanied by an awareness of the gender-specific symbolism of her soft, candy-colored pieces. Now her work has begun to place a stronger emphasis on the latter, feminist aspect, through the metaphor of baking—that is to say, by presenting sculpture making as a sort of fraught, gender-political productive activity. Here, Black showed this turn toward a more traditional, representational concept of sculpture in a sort of organic environment with the more process-oriented, ephemeral works whose relation to the finished product is that of an unavoidable context of production—both in the sense of symbolic connotations and in the sense of a necessary, work-immanent path. As a result, the show made good on its evocation of mobility and incompleteness precisely where such qualities might at first have seemed to have come to an end.

Dominikus Müller

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.