In Balka’s early works the body made very literal appearances. This Polish artist now works primarily on the form of the human body and the traces it leaves behind it: a bed, a coffin, an urn, and also salt (a substance that indicates the presence of life and is also the residue of sweat and tears) and ash (the remains of something that was once alive). Balka composes his new works with found objects which he manipulates only slightly so that they retain their originality and history.
Balka studied at the Academy of Art in Warsaw from 1980 to 1985. His training in figurative sculpture there was, he says, ‘very academic and very realistic’. His early works show the human body in a very literal way. In the course of time - from the end of the eighties - Balka alluded to the human figure rather than representing or portraying it. Simple objects now referred indirectly to the human body. Their form could be described as outwardly geometric, or outwardly abstract, for the artist’s works always contain hidden elements of reality - narrative, emotional and symbolic aspects (hidden/revealed through his treatment of materials and forms). The exhibition entitled "Around 21° 15' 00" E 52° 06' 17" N; + GO-GO (1985-2001)" is an ensemble of new works which have a specific connection with each other. The starting point is the former home of the artist’s parents, now his workspace or studio. "Around 21° 15' 00" E 52° 06' 17" N" indicates the position of this house on the globe. The midpoint of the exhibition is a life-size reconstruction of this studio. The walls are rubbed in with ash, as if in a gesture of farewell to the sanctuary of the body. Tubes stick out of the walls in twos, like eyes, and water flows out of them like tears. Their position is determined by the original location of the windows of the three bedrooms (a wailing wall?). In addition to this work, which is shown in the big upstairs room at SMAK, the downstairs wing contains a group of rooms containing objects that one can relate to it.
The entrance to these rooms has been narrowed to the size of the door into the studio in Poland. This gives the experience of the space in the rooms a more intimate character and is closer to the place where the artist spends his time and works (space for being and for creativity). Its private nature is also evoked by the attendants’ chairs, which Balka has replaced with domestic chairs of various periods and styles. One of the works is a cement pit filled with salt, like a spring. This is accompanied by two steel cylinders filled with wax which hang high in the room like trapezes, something like witnesses, ashamedly present in the room. A video monitor in the next room shows a ball that is held up by a part of the body to the extreme of its endurance and which falls after 45 seconds. The recurring sound of its hitting the floor is repeated in another room, where it is recognised as that of a falling ping-pong ball. Steel cables stretched between opposite walls refer to the physicality of the artist and his son. Each cable is stretched at the highest point each can reach. Tufts of hair are glued where the cables cross. Another work is a steel arch which spans a room and is distorted by its own weight and on which there are fragments of porcelain false teeth. It evokes danger, the possibility of violence, a game that may degenerate into a ‘wargame’ and which may even lead to bodily mutilation. The final room contains two felt cylinders with incisions like closed eyelids. From the ceiling hangs a fine iron wire with a host, representing the hope given by Communion, the significance of breaking the host with one’s closest relations, hosts to which medical powders used to be added - too big to swallow. In the passage before the group of rooms we find "+ GO - GO (1985-2001)": 35 square slabs in decorative concrete that are reminiscent of gravestones. This also refers to the artist’s personal history and to his father, who was a stonemason. Every one of Balka’s stones is a reminder of one of his exhibitions, with title and the dates of its start and finish. These moments, which determine the life of an exhibition, are placed next to each other on the floor. Two medical leather balls have been laid just under the neon letters on the facade of SMAK. A final work links the group of rooms with the studio, and curls its way up the stairs. This work is entitled "This is what sculpture was like when I was born". This exhibition was organised by SMAK and the Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw, where it was mounted in the spring of this year.More about Mirosław Bałka