Karla Black, Waiver for Shade (2021)

Taking a break from her hallmark candy-coloured sculptures, Karla Black has responded to a former warehouse at Fruitmarket with an installation comprising a ton or so of black soil.

The light is low, here, in the gallery’s new space. But the minimal illumination is amplified by the introduction of gold and copper leaf, a multitude of seeming confectionery wrappers.

Most of the work is on the floor or walls. The crumpled leaf is scattered; the soil creates an effect of paving. But the conventions around installation art proscribe actually walking here.

At the back of this stage, a mound of this dark earth looms. Foil wraps decorate it, row upon row like contour lines. They seem to armour this indistinct form. They certainly aestheticize it.

And the whole scene is first viewed through a barely visible veil of thread. All one sees are raining points of illumination where the ambient light catches the filaments’ gilding.

It’s enchanted, but also filthy. Soil is a base material. Art is alchemical. Those who seriously collect it might also be interested in this pill that lets you shit glitter.

Or they may be intrigued by the prospect that mining companies could soon be able to extract minimal amounts of gold, vanadium and copper from human waste.

They would almost certainly enjoy a gold toilet, and of these there have been more than one. Lost in a gold-toilet rabbithole on Wikipedia I came across this quote from Vladimir Lenin:

“When we are victorious on a world scale I think we shall use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities of the world.” 

The revolutionary point here is that gold is too often the cause of war, and Lenin hoped such toilets might educate people about the 10 million lives lost in WWI.

There are plenty of ways that great art might hold what glitters in tension with the earthly, but few examples quite as theatrical and artful as this one by Karla Black.

This piece can be seen at Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, until 24 October 2021. See gallery website for more details.

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