artists & participants

press release

Vernissage: 17 Oct 2008, 18:30

JETZT, The exhibition features Bałka"s most recent works, which are displayed here for the first time: seven video projections made in the last several months, along with his 2007 projection AAA + Rauchsignale. Whereas the artist"s recent exhibition at Berlin"s Galerie Nordenhake presented only material objects reduced to elementary forms, the WRO Art Center exhibition is a return to video space. The title comes from Paul Celan"s poem "Jetzt", from Lichtzwang [Force of Light] (1970), which was the last collection published in the poet"s lifetime.

NOW, the hassocks are burning, I eat the Book with all its insignia.

Bałka uses video in a characteristic way. As in his sculptures, in which he pursued an extreme reduction of form, in his video work he chooses, from among various possibilities offered by electronic devices, those which are the most fundamental: recording and projection. Apart from the selection of appropriate segments from longer passages, there is no editing of what the camera recorded. Like his previous video works these latest creations are looped projections whose rhythms of repetition depend on the running length: In short works lasting in some cases only a few seconds, the meaning is refined during the process of continual repetition.

The shortest of the pieces in the exhibition is PRIMITIVE, which lasts only a few seconds. It is taken from Claude Lanzmann"s film Shoah, about the Holocaust. It is a fragment of a statement by Franz Suchomel, an SS Unterscharfuehrer, whom Lanzmann located in Germany in the 1970s:

Suchomel: I"ll give you my definition. Keep this in mind! Treblinka was a primitive but effective production line of death. Understand?

Lanzmann: Yes. But primitive?

Suchomel: Primitive, yes. But it worked well, that production line of death.

The conversation was recorded by a hidden micro camera, and the television signal was transmitted, full of static, to a van out on the street. The speaker"s face isn"t always clear; the transmitted image is fuzzy and flickering ‐ the esthetics of distortion reminiscent of early video art. Here the technical rawness of the image serves to emphasize the dread of the statement. Bałka uses just a few seconds of Lanzmann"s film, re-recorded from a TV screen, which further underscores the impression that we are watching some kind of terrible ectoplasm that is shaping itself into the face of the speaker. The isolated phrase "primitive, yes" has no straightforward identifiable meaning, but it exudes menace. The work lasts not quite three seconds, during which a glint of evil is captured, digitalized and looped into infinity.

Audi HBE F114 is the first of Bałka"s works to be presented as a PowerPoint-like slideshow ‐ the most banal and most widespread form of computer presentation. It is made up of images from the television transmission of Benedict XVI"s visit to Auschwitz, captured by a camera filming a TV screen and reduced to a series of stills. This results in a 20-image slideshow portraying an Audi, with an attendant formation of bodyguards in suits, slowly making its way through the roads between the buildings of the camp. Inside the Audi the chosen one, unseen and protected from unknown dangers, ceremoniously and untouchably moves through the symbolic space. The HBE in the license plate designating the car as a police vehicle is also reminiscent of the Latin formula announcing that "we have a Pope": Habemus Papam.

Mapping the Studio, Too is a sort of remake of Bruce Neuman"s 2001 work Mapping the Studio (Fat chance John Cage). In his piece Neuman returns to the subject matter of his early video works, in which the artist"s studio is featured not only as a creative site but also as an independent artistic theme. In Neuman"s works from the late 1960s and early "70s the camera was the only witness of the artist"s gestural activity in his own studio. In Mapping the Studio, Too even the artist himself is absent; he is replaced by a mouse, whose evening activities the camera records in the otherwise empty studio. The mouse that appears in Mirosław Bałka"s studio is a cheap mechanical wind-up toy. The video returns to questions of the artist, his/her place, the limits of creativity and the increasing role of technology in art, crowding out old media and the artists themselves. At the same time the work is part of a real mapping of a new studio that Bałka recently set up as an adjunct to the space in Otwock where he has been working for over 20 years. The way he combines elements of the autobiographical context of his creativity with general artistic discourse is highly characteristic of Bałka.

DB is a sculpture in the artist"s studio: a europallet of flashing light. As an object, the sculpture is branded with the German Railways logo (not visible in the video image). As a projection it presents a view from above of the object lying on the studio floor. But due to the pulsing light, the image is blurred. The strong light disorients the camera, which tries automatically ‐ and therefore futilely ‐ to find the right parameters for the situation.

The whole exhibition forms a space full of strong relations between individual video images, some of which are projected on sheets of sponge, which makes the images seem integrally linked to the material object. Besides the interrelations of the works, there are also hyperlink-like associations with whole chains of meaning, inspiration and impressions.

The quotes, including the visual quotes, are not meant just to instigate the erudite game of guessing at allusions. Celan"s poem is not merely a metaphoric motto that Bałka has made use of, but also a precise description in which "the Book" is Shoah in its dual form as a film and a book reiterating the testimony in written form. The "insignia" are the ceremonial emblems that manifest not only the forces of nature, poetry and art (including his own work), but also evil, banality and chaos.

Piotr Krajewski Translation by Sherill Howard-Pociecha

Mirosław Bałka, one of the most valued Polish artists worldwide, author of minimalistic objects/sculptures, presents an exhibition of his premiere video installation works. His seven videos are recordings of internalizations and shifting values performed in the constant effort of perception and memory. The title and motto for the exhibition are excerpted from Paul Celan's poem, 'Jetzt', published in his final book, 'Lichtzwang' (1970).

WRO Art Center is the organizer of 13th Media Art Biennale WRO 09

only in german

JETZT, Miroslaw Balka
Kurator: Piotr Krajewski