To be completely frank, although some of my best friends are Welsh and they have such lovely teeth and a natural sense of rhythm and excel at running and everything, their culture is so vibrant etc., Wales’ pavilion is in an out-of-the way and nigh impossible to find cluster consisting of itself, Bangladesh and Iraq. Therefore I couldn’t be bothered to waste my time in tracking it down. Is some big cheese at the Biennale sending a passive-aggressive message by exiling these strife-torn and dysfunctional countries to the Venetian equivalent of Siberia? Only joking, of course: Bangladesh is hardly dysfunctional at all.
I’ll also be honest and say that I walked past Karla Black’s effort for the Scottish pavilion by chance. I went in with an unseemly glee, almost wringing my hands and swishing my cape like a melodrama villain. I fully intended to hate it and knew I would write a load of nasty shit about it because I already know that I loathe her work vehemently. You won’t catch anybody admitting to that in Art Monthly or The Guardian… even though every reviewer, writer or critic does precisely the same thing sometimes. She’s yet another repeat offender from the British Art Show and clearly another flavour of the month, or more accurately “oppressive soapy stink of the month”.
Did you think I was going to announce a dramatic change of heart when confronted with the shattering beauty of Karla Black’s sculptures “rooted in Kleinian analysis”? Sorry, Nimrod. This exhibition was shit and it made me angry.
I’d like Karla Black’s detailed and referenced explanation of precisely how any of this stuff is rooted in Kleinian analysis or quantum physics, as the curatorial statement ridiculously claims it is. If Black or anybody at the Fruitmarket Gallery (who commissioned this disaster) genuinely thinks that either of those things is the case, then it’s evident that the phrases “Kleinian analysis” and “quantum physics” are being used by them in a manner unfamiliar to anyone who actually knows a fucking jot about either of those subjects.
Do you know the sinus-searing reek of those Lush soap shops that you can detect from about three blocks away? Once you’ve experienced it, it’s unlikely you’ll forget it. The installation smells exactly like that because it’s basically huge chunks of soap. They’re not “exquisitely detailed aesthetic forms… hovering* between energy and mass” because that’s utter nonsense: nothing hovers between energy and mass (except maybe, in a manner of speaking, superheated plasma does).
These are not particle accelerator experiments, though, they’re bloody great lumps of soap with soil scattered on the floor. It looks like and smells like somebody threw a bag of compost in through the doorway of Lush. It’s literally soap and dirt presented together. Get it? Get it? See what she did there?
I’m not sure if my resentment at being subjected to olfactory muggings by Lush on the British high street is bleeding through to my opinion of Black’s work, but I can say without doubt that I really despise them both. Mind you, at least you can have a bath with one of those stupid bomb things they flog at Lush and nobody’s claiming they’re works of art. Black’s work does nothing for anybody and says nothing to anyone about anything. Except maybe it says “Christ, what a stench, let’s get out of here.”
* PS: I’m not the first person to notice the apparent tendency of bad art works to be “hovering between [random thing 1] and [random thing 2].” It’s one of the most tired, unhelpful and meaningless artspeak tropes. It’s deployed by artists and curators alike and is one of the primary tells in art writing of poor literary skills and lazy thinking. All that remains to be determined is whether or not they’re deliberately being obfuscatory by claiming an artist’s/their own work is complex enough to successfully contain contradictory ideas when they’re fully aware that this isn’t the case. Until somebody owns up that they know this formulaic phrase is bullshit, even though they use it all the time, we could say that people who use it in art texts “hover between being a pretentious tit and being a mendacious charlatan.”
Artists should be making work that deploys their intellect, insight, craft and ideas to deliberately engineer whatever effect they want it to. That includes work with multiple levels of meaning and complex or paradoxical qualities. Clear, bold and direct art, subtle art that’s more emotional, evocative or aesthetic than intellectual, art that hits us from a great height with a massive and unavoidable idea, like an anvil in a cartoon: all of these can be perfectly fine and need no jargon to excuse them. No artist’s work should be hovering anywhere.