Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Unzipped Humanities (4): Learn about - Miroslaw Balka

Welcome to the collection of The National Museum of Art, Osaka.

This post is about Miroslaw Balka, a Polish artist whose Blue Gas Eyes cannot forget. The darkness.

Miroslaw Balka, BlueGasEyes, 2004

The absence. The objects left behind the sweat, the tears and the salt.  The lost humanity.

The danger that it would all be forgotten.

Miroslaw Balka photo (2010)


"The 35th Anniversary: The Allure of the Collection" exhibition opens at The National Museum of Art, Osaka on 21 April 2012.
Our contributions to the Collection exhibition catalogue already went to print. For updates and texts in the Japanese language authored by The Bosa Bosa Review, please check again around April. You can read the English version here on the blog.

Unzipped Humanities (1) covered Marcel Broodthaers and his work La signature. Serie 1. Tirage illimite (1969), while Unzipped Humanities (2) introduced to our readers Jorg Immendorff's Das Bild ruft (letztes Selbstportrait II), also in the museum's collection. Unzipped Humanities (3) discussed Jean-Pierre Raynaud's work Auto Portrait.
We hope you enjoy. Cheers.

Welcome to the museum's collection:

Miroslaw BALKA   φ51x4, 85x43x49  (1998).

We have been working on Miroslaw BALKA's φ51x4, 85x43x49, for the collection catalogue.

watching the chair, the handcuffs, the rope

separating the salt and the wounds


Miroslaw Balka was born in 1958 in Poland. In his works he makes use of objets trouves, and with these he brings about collective memories of lost presence. He applies subjective particles: salt, dust and ashes onto materials such as wood, steel, terrazzo and carpeting. In 2009, his installation "How It Is” has been commissioned by Tate Modern for its Turbine Hall. He currently lives and works in his home town, Otwock.


Curatorial Night Beat @ The Bosa Bosa Review

 φ51x4, 85x43x49  is an artwork from 1998 (wood, steel, salt and plastic, φ51x4cm, 85x43x49cm). Courtesy The National Museum of Art, Osaka).

An old chair is hanging from the ceiling with a rope, it is tilted and has a hole in the middle of the seat. Two wheels of the size of handcuffs are placed on the back of the chair. 

This image brings back to memory medieval instruments of torture, where the victim would be placed in a chair and the iron restraints would be tightened, usually with a fire heated underneath. The hanging of the chair could imply the hanging of a victim as well. Balka's chair does not touch the floor, and this lack of contact keeping spaces at a distance is a common feature in his works, as it can be seen in the sarcophagus-like works 50x40x1,190x50x40,190x50x40,190x50x40 (1992). The chair does not leave tracesssss.

On the floor, a steel disk covered in salt. The salt spread on top of the disk symbolises human tears and sweat, and it has been previously used to cover a whole bed as night fear. There are two holes in this disk. Two holes in the disk have appeared before in Balka’s work, such as 380x230x13,69x67x13 (1993) , where they were filled with ashes, symbol that something, someone once was/lived/ has been and departed. Balka's works often cross the line between life and death, they belong to a world in-between, which is nothing but dark.

In this particular work the holes are left empty, and empty-filled is one of Balka's key contrast-pairs, presence as absence and absence of presence of the human body. He drills holes into the very idea that something/someone has been removed from existence. All these redefine the intangibility of human traces.

While this work might make think of medieval instruments of torture, Balka did not necessarily show interest in medieval subjects. Most likely this work has a contemporary meaning, that of a living memory. The collective memory of people who have known communist Poland is haunting his works and with this, Balka is celebrating the “living traces” of his own memory.

Balka’s objects filling galleries and museums, white cubes with white salt, and spaces with memories are obviously political, they deal with the politics of change, of a historical reality disappeared quickly from the collective memory as if it had never existed. "Culture is terminally-ill with amnesia", wrote Andreas Huyssen in Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. With this chair installation again, Balka is sculpting from memory. 

Miroslaw Balka's How It Is at Tate 2009 © Guardian
uploaded by TheGuardian on 10 Nov 2009 

Along with the rapid change, the mass marketing of nostalgia has been pushed forward. While the computerized present is defined by an overflow of information and random-access memory industry bound up with forgetting and therefore producing amnesia, the past belongs to a read-only memory, not re-writable.  No cyberspace crowdedness is used in his works, no super-technology, no dazzling visual effects, no impressive pattern. Balka does not re-write history, yet he recreates a memory of the body in pain. He recreates the emptiness. The deep dark. The helplessness. The meaninglessness of what people have been able to do to other people

Useful English -Japanese glossary:

Miroslaw BALKA     ミロスワフ・バウカ

“How It Is”   あるがままに

Related links:

Miroslaw Balka How It Is installation at Tate Modern (2009-10) 

Topography exhibition at Modern Art Oxford (2009-2010)

Fragment exhibition at the Akademie der Kunste Berlin (2011-12)

Read also Marck Prince's article Miroslaw Balka, published in Frieze in connection with the Nonetheless exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin (September 2011).

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