‘My work is always at the frontier of things. One finds in it the traces of a political and
religious situation that I try to describe, the covering up of the truth, the hiding of what you believe in, the pretence.’ Miroslaw Balka in conversation with Juan Vicente Aliaga.
Over the past ten years the acclaimed sculptor Miroslaw Balka has been making concise and moving video works. Topography introduces this compelling and little known work as a multi-dimensional installation in Modern Art Oxford’s galleries and offers fresh insight into the artist's practice.
Balka uses his video recordings as a repository of visual and thematic material, extending a sculptural language that is rich in associations with history and his native Poland. The body and its limitations, memory, and the space between looking and knowing are recurring themes. In his videos, he assumes the role of traveller and of witness. If the historical trauma of The Holocaust figures largely in this body of work, its presence is only barely suggested. The large-scale projection of a snowy landscape in Pond (2003), mesmerising in its natural beauty and its stillness, was shot at the site of the concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau. Its pendant Bambi (2003) in which young deer look for food in the snow amidst the barbed and metallic vestiges of the camp’s prison compound, is poignant in its reflection of the discordant layers of history and how we remember them. In more recent works, such as Flagellare A, B and C (all 2009), Balka offers a more physical expression of the human condition, capturing his repeated, violent gestures of beating the floor in a form of primitive enactment.
Writing on Balka’s video works, curator Julian Heynen has observed: ‘Balka comes upon the surprising and the banal, the poetic and the insufferable. And it is precisely those things that appear simply too huge, too complex, too terrible to be explained by ordinary words and images.’
Common Task is an ambitious new work by Pawel Althamer that takes the form of a
science-fiction film in real-time. Accompanied by members of his local community in
Bródno the artist has embarked on an ongoing journey from Warsaw to Brazil, Belgium
and Africa. The journey continues to Modern Art Oxford where Althamer is transforming the first floor galleries into a zone for teleportation. Visitors will be invited to take part in the journey that is the Common Task.
Pawel Althamer was born in Warsaw in 1967. A graduate from the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Althamer gained attention in the 1990s as part of a rising generation of Polish artists. His work, encompassing sculpture, performance, film and public actions, often takes the form of orchestrated events involving communities of people. Participation and the exploration of altered or parallel dimensions of experience have proved central to his art.
In February 2000, he organised a live action event in a residential tower block in Bródno
in Warsaw where he lives with his family. In 2007 in London he presented Real Time Movie, shot as a live event in London’s Borough Market with the actor Jude Law, as part of the
Tate Modern exhibition The World As A Stage. For Skulptur Projekte Münster, 2007, he worked with a group of people to dig out a path across grassy parkland into the agricultural fields beyond the city’s limits. Over the past ten years the artist has been running a ceramics class for disabled people at a studio in Warsaw’s Nowolipie Street, travelling with his students to present their work in museums and galleries across Europe. In 2004, Althamer received the prestigious Vincent Van Gogh Award.
This is Pawel Althamer’s first solo exhibition in the UK.
Miroslaw Balka, How It Is, Tate Modern, London, UK