Visiting Exhibitions by Kara Walker and John Latham

“We at Camden Arts Centre are Exceedingly Proud to Present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.” at Camden Arts Centre, London.

NOIT Journal Launch, at Flat-Time House, London.

From Kara Walker at the Camden Arts Centre, to John Latham at the Flat-Time House; from the visceral, to the cerebral (but that’s more about playing with words than a fair assessment of the two shows – although it does tell you something fairly basic about certain features of each show; I’m pretty sure there were never so many representations of penises in Latham’s work, as there are no scientific formulae in Walker’s, to my knowledge).

The events that Walker represents in her silhouettes seem stuck in their time, by their development and exploitation of an extreme imaginary of the history of slavery as it took place in the American South; whereas Latham’s works (at least in their meaning) have no such specificity of time and event, but are all about time and event as qualities in a very scientific sense, and as these pertain to the creative act.

Although Latham’s work might be said to have a certain style of the period when they were made, a style of the British-flavours of conceptual art (Art & Language, Liliane Lijn, to name two). But this recognition of a style might be said to incorporate as much of an imaginary as the recognition of the imagery that Walker exploits.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine two more different artists.

To focus primarily on Walker’s work, the way I have characterised it as being stuck in a time, I am suggesting is problematic. They have an interesting relationship to the development of Walker’s artworks. At this point it seems as if her format and imagery has been mined to exhaustion, and now to be actually self-creating its subject matter (although perhaps they always were). From work that draws attention to existing tropes and stereotypes, we seem to have reached a stage where these silhouettes are pushed to become a completely new set of stereotypes – Walker’s own creations rather than a reflection of a historical situation. Is this not problematic? Is the work not now creating that world which it originally accused history and society of brushing under the carpet?

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Visiting Exhibitions by Kara Walker and John Latham by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International