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
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams cast in Channel 4 drama about cyber bullying
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's 'Booty' music video is just a load of butts
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes