Scotland Pavilion

Venice is full of masks. From facades of palazzos to carnival masks, a masked identity both flaunts and disguises. Karla Black’s nearly-objects – towers of polystyrene and pigment, tutus of pastel-coloured plastic, and blocks of soap – are masks. They flaunt their impracticality, like flamingos hanging over perfumed eggs; yet they conceal or refuse a meaning: there is no meaning, no metaphor, says Black.

Black’s explanations are nearly-explanations too, hovering between contradiction and reticence. While she is adamant her work is not symbolic or referential, and stands for nothing but itself, she sites psychoanalysis and theories of language for explanation, and titles her work with emotionally charged names (‘Expressions Are Hurting, Move Outside’, ‘At Fault’, ‘Help Is Not Appealing’, ‘Don’t Depend’). She says these names act as assertions that Black encourages the viewer to contradict, likening this experience of having a title ‘argue’ with its artwork to that of being taught the definition of a sculpture at art school, and wanting to contradict this ever-since.

Precarious and decadent, Black’s fake-tan sprayed sugar-paper and scattered soil fill the top floor of the palazzo. Black is an obvious selection for her curator, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket gallery, given the Scottish Pavilion’s location in Venice’s Palazzo Pisani. Her work fits right in. Visitors ask whether Black has painted the panelled walls their baby-pink and pistachio colours, and stencilled the gold edging to the doors and fireplace, but in fact, the architecture is original. Black has also gleaned inspiration from a palazzo across the canal, supposedly once the house of Casanova. The scroll motif on its windows, combined with Palazzo Pisani’s fireplace surround, finds its shape in Black’s ripped brown paper hangings. As I walk home from the exhibition, meringues in a nearby bakery, and a papered-up window further along, remind me of Black’s nearly-objects. Venice’s crumbling walls and campaniles are also similar. And as the city has to be restored, its foundations strengthened here and there, its campos swept, so do Black’s pieces. Exhibition and city alike are impractical. The invigilators have powder brushes and hairspray for touch-ups, and two floor-based polythene sculptures filled with Vaseline leaked in the heat and damaged the floor. They were removed, but left two patches, pale and shiny. Unfortunately, the smell of Lush soap (Black’s sponsors) distances the work from its location, and deters the viewer from staying longer. 

Papered-up window.


Casanova’s house, perhaps.