Edinburgh's Fruitmarket returns with Karla Black's wonderfully mysterious art – Laura Waddell

This week I made my first visit to Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket since its refurbishment, for the opening exhibition by Karla Black (and to browse the much-missed art bookshop.)

Karla Black's show at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery is its first since re-opening following the Covid lockdown (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Karla Black's show at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery is its first since re-opening following the Covid lockdown (Picture: Neil Hanna)

In the upstairs gallery, lit by natural skylight, Black’s floor installation of pink powder gives the space a lunar quality. Thread bobbins, which I first mistook for hair rollers, leave tracks like mini Mars Rovers.

Isolated from one another, on solitary journeys across the vast rouged landscape, threads unravel behind them, trailing off like puffs of smoke.

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It’s as though an overarching system has short circuited, the pieces scattered around fulfilling futile missions obliviously, somewhere out in space.

But if this sounds depressing, it is the opposite. The rosy glow cast around the room, from light bouncing off all that powder, evokes a slightly tranquilised contentment. I enjoy standing in the mystery of it.

What better colour to bathe the gallery in than its signature pink, the cerebral but feelgood tint that has framed so many memorable exhibitions in its brochures and branding? After its long closure, this lung-like space is evidence the Fruitmarket is breathing again.

On the ground floor are Black’s sculptures made of hosiery, paper, cosmetics, and stacked foamy blocks. The gallery description says these works “reject figuration”. I overhear a patron in conversation with an attendant, drawing comparison to Edinburgh rock; in them I saw astronaut ice cream. What we are both getting at is that they look pretty, brittle, tempting to bite.

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Art review: Karla Black, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
Turner Prize-nominated artist Karla Black's work has a cerebral but feelgood pink tint (Picture: Neil Hanna)

But it is the new Warehouse space I’m most interested to visit, the starkest change to the gallery’s layout.

Accessed past the cafe (a prime people-watching space, restored) and down a corridor parallel to the ever-bustling Market Street as glimpsed through windows daubed by Black’s pastes and powders.

If up above is all light and air, heady and elevating, here are the bowels of the operation. A space where once people danced, drank, sang and fell in love during its time as a music venue, and before that, traded the produce from which the Fruitmarket gets its name, it is industrial, cavernous, dark, and satisfying. Karla Black has filled it with mounds of dirt, tape, and squares of glittering metallic leaf. What a gold mine of an exhibition space.

When it comes to visual art, I am not an insider. Unlike books, this is not my corner of Scottish culture. I don’t get invited to fancy press launches and seldom, even, receive press releases from galleries, visiting only when I fancy it.

The former Buster Browns nightclub in Edinburgh has been transformed by the Fruitmarket Gallery (Picture: Neil Hanna)

As I write this, a gleefully dorky neon-yellow visitor’s sticker is still affixed to my shirt, proving to staff I registered for my time slot.

The Fruitmarket has always felt easy to walk into, out of the frenetic activity outside, whether for a dedicated visit or on the fortuitous occasion of time to kill before a train from Waverley below.

I’m glad that in its transformation it has retained the qualities that make it one of my favourite contemporary galleries, but with extra room for artists to expand into. I’m excited to see what appears in the Warehouse over the coming years.

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