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
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre