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Karla Black: 'Don't call my art feminine'

In the Palazzo Pisani, Glasgow-based Turner prize contender sculpts cosmetics into peach and pistachio 'cave paintings'

In the 15th-century Palazzo Pisani, Karla Black has made the kind of work that whets the appetite for the Turner prize, the award she is tipped to win this December: boulder-size bundles of sugar paper chalked over in shades of peach and pistachio and bedecked with talcous mounds of plaster powder; sheets of paper sprayed with fake tan; and balsa wood painted with eyeshadow. In one series of rooms, the floors are scattered with soil on which sit industrial-size cubes of soap from toiletries chain Lush, a sponsor of the exhibition.

Don't, though, whatever you do, call this apparent onrush of girliness feminine. She finds this description of her art disgusting. "It is ridiculous and annoying," she says. "Why do people call it feminine? Because it is light, fragile, pale? Because it is weak, impermanent? When you start going to work on it you realise how ridiculous the description is. How can a work of art be feminine?"

It is certainly Black's year. Aside from being the insiders' favourite, neck and neck with painter George Shaw, to win this year's Turner prize, as Scotland's representative at the Venice Biennale she has been thrust on to the largest and most prestigious international stage for art.

Though not an official participating country – Mike Nelson represents the UK in the Biennale proper, eligible to win the Golden Lion for the best national exhibition – this is the fifth time Scotland has staged its own "collateral" show, an increasingly important platform for the nation's artists. Martin Boyce, fielded by Scotland in 2009, is also shortlisted for the Turner prize.

Her sculpture, Black says, is absolutely non-representational. "There is no image, no metaphor," she says. Rather, the point is the sculpture's sheer materiality, its heft and presence and fact of being in the world as it confronts the viewer. The use of materials gleaned from Boots' cosmetics counter, she explains, is not a kind of feminist critique of sculpture – "though I am a feminist". It is, she says, not as simple as that: "When I am spraying fake tan on paper I am actually thinking of people making cave paintings. They would hold the colour in their mouth and spit it out: that was the first spray paint."

This autumn, Black will be preparing for her Turner prize exhibition at the Baltic centre for contemporary art, Gateshead. Having been far from a household name, she will be pushed out into the public gaze, her work seen by thousands and pored over by the media. "I'm pleased," she said. "But I am keeping my head down. I have a lot of work to do and I am concentrating on it. Next year it will all be over, and it will be someone else's turn."

Karla Black is at the Palazzo Pisani (S Marina), Calle de le Erbe, Cannaregio 6103, Venice, from Saturday until 27 November © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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