Katrina Palmer

Future Greats 2013

By Elizabeth Price

The Pretender, 2012, reading at Chisenhale Gallery, London. Photo: Manuela Barczewski

Katrina Palmer’s art is sculpture, though not as we usually encounter it. Her stories unfold physical, psychological and sexual encounters with materiality, so that things and thoughts collide, ideas become as sensual as external reality, and banal, vulgar or obscene objects are formed in writing, as imagined sculpture.

The objects from which Palmer’s stories begin – pages, books, desks and chairs – recall the scenario of writing, and the object repertoire of conceptual art, a witty reminder of dematerialisation’s overlooked materialisations. But art-historical allusions merely provide the setting for the real action. The subordinate or enfolded spaces of these objects, the cavities under or within them, become the refuge for vivid fantasies.

In ‘Bed-Chair’, a story that features in Palmer’s novel The Dark Object (2010), a chair that unfolds to make a bed is exploited as a dynamic sculptural image as well as a location for a sexual encounter. The bed-chair’s formal mutability incites the thrilling degeneration from working (reading/writing) to sex, and then back again. But the chair is also an object of considerable pathos, a ridiculous thing whose articulations are slapstick: sex and work (manual/intellectual) are both physical comedy here, not transcendent processes, like sculpture itself.

Often read live, tersely delivered and timed to the second, the action unfolds from lucid analysis to searing physical violence (biting off the head of a penis) in a matter of minutes. Indebted to punk for its insolence and absurdist fiction for its mordant reversals of power, Palmer’s distinctive art reminds me above all of the coldly furious and always bloody stratagems of Jacobean revenge tragedy; albeit with the gender roles reversed. At last.

This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue.