Persuader Face (detail), 2009. Plaster powder, sugar paper, chalk, lipstick, eyeshadow, and glitter hair spray, 1520 x 1520 cm.

Objects, But Only Just: A Conversation with Karla Black

Naomi Wolf tells us in The Beauty Myth that “women’s identity must be premised upon our ‘beauty’ so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem exposed to the air.” Glasgow artist Karla Black doesn’t expose women’s self-esteem; instead, she re-presents the cosmetic materials that they use to mask their insecurities while attempting to adhere to prescribed standards of beauty. Black’s vast, process-based sculptures transform everyday items such as toothpaste, Vaseline, hair gel, and makeup into sensual forms that recall the density and intense biological allusions of Cildo Meireles. Combined with plaster, earth, paint, and cellophane, these non-traditional materials create sweetly pastel, soft forms that, despite their superficial gentleness, hark back to feminist art’s confrontational use of “feminine” materials. In this context, a raised mound of baby-blue eye shadow becomes a potentially intimidating challenge and a disquieting gulf between the sexes—although Black herself locates the focus of her sculptures in their materiality, formal properties, and relation to the history of sculpture…see the entire article in the print version of July/August’s Sculpture magazine.