Camden Arts Centre's Dieter Roth's diaries offers insight into an elusive artist's life

By Emily Beeson | 09 May 2013

Exhibition preview: Dieter Roth: Diaries, Camden Arts Centre, London until July 14 2013 

A photograph of Dieter Roth's diaries
© Alan Dimmick. Courtesy The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 2012
Having lived, worked and exhibited all over Europe and the United States following a childhood in 1930s Germany, the German-Swiss artist Dieter Roth is one of contemporary art’s most prolific, meticulous and driven personalities.

A vibrant enthusiasm defines his work, which ranges from from installations, sculpture, drawing and video to assemblage, books and, infamously, biodegradable art.

This exhibition focuses on the precise recordings of his impassioned life and career, placing his diaries at the centre of a detailed, autobiographical showcase.

Several series of works and three major installations form conceptual portraits of the artist to represent both Roth’s life and artistic development.

His Tischmatten series stands out as a wonderful extension of the journal or sketchbook. The tablemats serve as slates on which to record ideas and jot down bursts of creative thought.

A version of the exhibition was shown at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh last year, and was described by Alastair Sooke, of the Telegraph, as “a heartbreakingly honest portrait of old age”.

Camden Arts Centre’s extended version presents this considerable collection of deeply personal records in London for the first time, alongside some beautiful works such as Roth’s Kleiderbild paintings.

Created during the mid-eighties, these textural self-portraits omit any sign of Roth’s corporeal body; the abstract garments depicted are all that serve to illustrate his identity.

Given the elusive nature of these self-portraits, Roth’s diaries provide an extraordinary insight into his personal life and craft and exhibit how, unbeknownst to many, the two were inextricably linked.

The extensive journals contain everything from to-do lists and calendars to profound reflections poems, creative ponderings and work plans.

They communicate perfectly the striking connection between Roth’s life and his art, as well as his belief in the significance of authorship and creative self-presentation.
In its fetishisation of rubbish and decay, Flat Waste, an installation of ring binders made from receipts, food packaging and everyday waste communicates Roth’s central concern with life, death, the creation and destruction of things. 
It's a consistent theme of his work, which is addressed most expressively in Solo Scenes - Roth’s final creation.

He passed away while the piece was being completed, and the installation is perhaps his most sincere self-portrait. Comprised of 128 real-time videos, the visual diary shows Roth going about his daily routines on a large-scale grid of televisions.

This intimate retrospective presents an intriguing look at the dedication and verve of an ambiguous artist and personality, and communicates the value of a long life filled with the desire to create and to do more with the time given to us. 

  • Open 10am-6pm (9pm Wednesday, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @CamdenArtsCtr.

More pictures:

A photograph of a girl writing
A photograph of a video installation
A photograph of Roth's diaries
A photograph of a video installation
A photograph of ringbinders in an installation

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