The re-opening of the refurbished Fruitmarket enhances Edinburgh’s coming back to life as an exciting arts location. The gallery closed in summer 2019 for a £4.3million refurbishment. Now we get to see it re-launched with an extension into the warehouse building next door. The new gallery and performance space is designed by Edinburgh-based architects Reiach and Hall with sustainability in mind – reusing materials removed from the upper floor. This extension has doubled the size of the Fruitmarket’s gallery space, launching with Karla Black: sculptures (2001-2021) details for a retrospective.
The gallery has chosen Scottish-born, Glasgow-based Karla Black to launch with a purpose-built exhibition that responds directly to the original gallery space and the new extension. The original gallery space is recognisable with a few alterations to ensure easier access and a larger cafe and shop. Enter through the usual front door and check-in before exploring the street level gallery space containing the retrospective element of the exhibition. Here we can revisit a selection of Black’s artworks from the past 20 years, forms and materials of past works reimagined for this space.
Familiar materials are found here in Black’s work: powder pinks, blues and whites, cardboard, sugar paper, polystyrene, polythene, cellophane, sellotape, glass, mirror, net, Vaseline, plaster powder, powder paint, medicines, cosmetics and thread. Fine art materials come together with household substances to create something deeply visceral and abstract. Black uses materials in their raw and natural form as much as possible without altering their properties, including paint, which she mixes with Vaseline or moisturiser to maintain the original hue of the raw paint.
Better (2010/21) is a fascinating work – reproduced from 2010. Pink and white liquids from a well-known indigestion remedy have been poured onto the floor causing a surprising reaction that has dried and formed into something curiously beautiful.
Black’s work often brings out personal reactions in the viewer. For me, some works brought up latent or abstract memories from childhood and babyhood. These are pre-language experiences and deeply sensory connections – both joyful and fearful. Others conjure up reactions from somewhere primitive in my psyche. Works like The Unhelpful Constant (2021) – oil paint on tights – are instantly visceral. Each work brings up sense memories, either fleeting or abstract without a narrative. There were some works I wanted to both touch and smell yet recoil from at the same time.
The upper level of the original gallery space is transformed into a space of soft pink hues for Punctuation is pretty popular: nobody wants to admit to much (2008/2021). Pink powder paint and cosmetics mix with plaster powder on the wooden floor to create a delicate carpet of pink that affects the light and the walls. Spools of thread are scattered, some tangled, messy and unreeling, others tumbled into the dust unfurled and making tracks that shimmer in the light. The odd small gaps between the wooden floor slats – previously unnoticed – create another unexpected pattern. The powder is recycled from the last time this was installed in 2008.
The new gallery space contrasts with the white-walled original gallery space next door. It has exposed brick walls, steel frames and timber floors. The upper flooring was taken out and re-used to section-off the space exposing the structure of the original building – a fruit and veg warehouse. Here, we enter Black’s new large-scale floor installation. Waiver for Shade (2021) uses earth, metallic thread, gold and copper leaf. The earth absorbs the light and the gold/copper leaf catches the light and glimmers within this dark space. Simultaneously heavy and delicate, there is an odd feeling that it has been here a while or could crumble and disappear in a breeze.
With Fences Kept (2021) you’ll find paint, cosmetics and vaseline smears on the windows and glass of the contained corridor space. Part of me wants to make a story out of every mark found, another part of me sees familiar patterns and sensory flashes: faces in smudges, sensations from my childhood.
The joy of this exhibition is that each viewer is bound to have a personal reaction to the artworks. Sticky substances adhere to smooth, shiny ones. Viscous or powdery textures gather in crevices. As someone with a sensitive sensory perception, I left the gallery feeling both ever so slightly discombobulated and as if I had kicked up some dust from the corners of my psyche and it hadn’t quite settled back down yet. Powerful.
With big thanks to Artmag contributor Julie Boyne for this review.