press release

Barbara Gladstone Gallery is pleased to announce "sweep, swept, swept," an exhibition of new work by Miroslaw Balka. Born in 1958 in Warsaw, Poland, Balka’s earliest works in the late 1980s were figural, implying a narrative interpretation. He gained international recognition in the early 1990s for his sculptural installations in which the human figure was conspicuously absent. In its place were well-worn objects of human use and traces left by the body such as blood and tears, suggesting loneliness and tragic memory.

History, memory and memorial are central themes in Balka’s work. Growing up in Catholic Poland and under a Socialist regime where Western popular icons were rejected, the artist recalls that his childhood heroes were saints and martyrs. As a result, a sense of the sacred pervades his work, as do recollections of the most painful episode in recent Polish history: the Holocaust.

In Balka’s installations, spatial relationships resonate with meaning and augment the emotional intensity. As Stuart Morgan has observed, "since Balka tends to turn viewing spaces into comparable areas, a feeling of physical and emotional proximity characterises his sculpture . . . choreographed step by step, visitors encounter not single items but environments." Often the measurements of Balka’s own body determine a sculpture’s dimensions, which in turn serve as its title. As the artist has explained, "the dimensions of my sculptures are a cryptic way of talking about myself."

One work, 89 x 106 x 66, consists of a long wall interrupted by an opening resembling two doors of a bureau. From their bottom edges flow two continuous streams of water, which are collected in a simple trough-like container. Containers, used to preserve relics of human emotion, are a recurring motif in Balka’s work. The perpetual flow of water acts as a cleansing force, one that frustrates the persistence of memory by "sweeping" it away.

104 x 73 x 72 and The Moon consists of a wood box with soap lining its exterior walls and a hole on top, calling to mind a toilet or waste receptacle. Projected on the wall above it is a 20-second video loop showing a full moon that shivers and quakes until it finally falls out of the frame. The video is accompanied by the sound of the annual procession that commemorates Holy Week, Semana Santa, in Seville, Spain. The illusion of the moon disappearing into the box is at once apocalyptic and anticlimactic, heightening our awareness of the cyclical nature of life.

A third work challenges the viewer to retrace the steps taken by prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp at Majdanek. In 536 x 434 x 5 and The Walk, the dimensions of the wooden planks covering the floor are identical to those of the floor of the bath leading to the gas chamber at Majdanek where mass executions took place. Projected onto this replicated floor is a video showing the actual floor boards at Majdanek passing underfoot, documenting the procession of the prisoners as they filed into the gas chamber. Salt, which for Balka represents dry tears and sweat, fills the gaps between the planks, symbolizing vestiges of the victims long departed.

The last work, 250 x 200 x 19, 2 x (60 x 40 x 14), consists of an old carpet partially unrolled to reveal two recesses filled with salt, signifying the presence of two bodies just before they are removed from the household after death. Parallel to this suggestion of a deceased couple are twin lamps shaped like tombstones that emit a warm yellow light. Like an apparition signalling the presence of the supernatural, this light also suggests the possibility of transformation and renewal.

An exhibition of Miroslaw Balka’s work is currently at the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Ghent. Solo exhibitions include: National Museum of Art, Osaka; Museet for Samtidskunst, Oslo; IVAM, Centre Del Carme, Valencia; Kunsthalle Bielefeld; Centre d'art contemporain, Thiers; Tate Gallery, London; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld; and Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. The artist was the representative of Poland at the 1993 Venice Biennale. Miroslaw Balka lives and works in Warsaw. Pressetext

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Miroslaw Balka - sweep, swept, swept