Art review: Dieter Roth, Diaries, Camden Arts Centre, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Monday 20 May 2013
In the early 1980s, German-Swiss artist Dieter Roth was close to death due to his excessive drinking and eating. He spent time in a health clinic in Switzerland, and emerged 30 kilos lighter. His life was saved but he had another problem: his exquisitely tailored Viennese suits no longer fitted him.
A more conventional man might have given the clothes to a charity shop, but Roth (1930 – 1998) was an artist who used the defunct and discarded stuff of everyday life as the raw material for his art. The plus-size suits appear in the Clothes Picture series (1984-7), which are “diaries” in the broadest sense – multi-media forms of self-portraiture and autobiography that lend insight into a frantically creative mind.
This exhibition is characteristic of Camden Arts Centre’s general brilliance. It is pedantic, rich, and tragicomic in the sense that it illuminates Roth’s (failed or successful?) attempt to overcome the passing of time through obsessive documentation.
The Clothes Pictures are visually fantastic. In each, a suit has been arranged on a plywood board in a way that suggests human road-kill; it appears as though the man inside the clothes has simply been flattened out of existence. To make matters worse, this absent presence has been doused thoroughly in opaque white glue, which runs and pools over the expensive material, exposing a patch of tweed here and there, at times mixed with baby-pink and powder-blue pigment.
The glue is fascinating: it is both creamy and plasticky, rippling like the folds of the fabric itself. The suited figure appears buried alive in this mysterious substance, but the overall impression of these works is one of cheerfulness – at least, a gallows humour kind of cheerfulness.
Flat Waste (1975-6/1992) is an elegantly curated installation. One wall of the gallery has been transformed into an archivist’s paradise. Shelves of ring-binders are filled with trash no more than 1cm thick, collected by Roth religiously over a year. The viewer can flick through more trash in the ring-binders laid open under the type of angle-poise lamps that Roth kept in his studios. Here are his cigarette butts, his torn envelopes – tokens of a life.
A wall of TV monitors show Solo Scenes (1997-8). They are films of Roth in his studios: sleeping, washing, drawing. He died during the making of this work, and so the darkness that encroaches upon many of the shots appears all the more poignant.
17 May – 14 July
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Christmas 2014: The three most intriguing celebrity panto appearances
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage from Lana Del Rey rape video
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track