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Miroslaw Balka
4 March – 8 April 2004

White Cube is pleased to present a new group of work by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka. Balka is known for his careful, resonant sculptural installations which often relate to his own body and also to a collective sense of corporeality felt keenly through its manifest absence. Wax, metal, plaster and wood are some of the materials that he uses in either found and altered objects or simple constructions, which refer to everyday domestic rituals as well as personal and collective memories, imbued with a consciousness of mortality.

Balka has described his installations in terms of a 'sentence', each sculpture being words that through their collaborative poise and configuration create new, unexpected meanings. For this exhibition, he is presenting a series of related objects in foam rubber, steel and wood. Two lengths of white foam rubber, cut in the shape of a train track and knotted in their centre, are hung from the gallery ceiling. The tracks are sodden with salt water, a material that the artist has used frequently: an intimation perhaps of bodily residue, such as sweat or tears. Most of Balka's work is allusive, in the sense that it can suggest a proliferation of associative meanings, although sometimes, a trace of a very particular narrative can also be ascribed to its form and surface. In this case, the sculpture refers precisely and tragically to a particular stretch of divergent train track in Poland; one part of which leads to the concentration camp of Birkenau, the other to elsewhere. The split of this track – the geographical point of a personal destiny – has become a knot, a confused and momentary point where different futures seem to collapse.

Balka accumulates stories in his work, mixing histories from his own life with abstracted and real ideas. He often uses the classical proportions of the human body to scale his work, placing his sculptures at very particular distances within a room, as if emotional engagement is manifested through felt, spatial dimension. (Occasionally, the titles of his works are simply certain dimensions taken from the artist's own body). He has described his work in terms of releasing the 'energy' contained in simple materials, the way that a considered cut or mark can be transformative and monumental. Like the modern mythical works of Joseph Beuys, or the 'unformed' sculpture of Robert Morris, the materials that Balka uses are often at first glance inert, dense and weighty, presented in their virtually unaltered state; their forms often covert and pathetic. His use of materials can also be extremely intimate. In works such as 'Soap corridor' (installed at the 1993 Venice Biennale), for example, the ritual of washing is evoked as well as the material trace of a physical, human existence. Likewise, his new sculpture, 'Ikebana' is a hybrid sculpture with sharp trajectories of steel emerging out of a round steel base, their tips covered with strong smelling disinfectant balls, the kind found in public conveniences. At the other end of the gallery, a rope of medicine balls – small leather balls used frequently for remedial exercise - hangs from the ceiling. In one corner of the gallery, another sculpture, consisting of a guard-rope made of hair (its form similar to the kind used in museums to keep people from touching paintings), has a stifled and tragic presence. In the middle of the gallery, a suspended door also made of dense, white foam rubber and edged with a wooden armature slowly rotates from a ceiling pivot.

In Inside the White Cube, Balka is re-presenting his ash room installation, entitled 'Dead End'. The gallery is coated with dark, sooty ash, transformed into a tomb-like space where emptiness becomes content and the walls are no longer containers of space but soft, textured objects with their own threatening presence.

WHITE CUBE, 48 Hoxton Square, London N1 6PB
Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 6pm.


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