Gagosian, Rome
Through November 18

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At once surreal, comical, and critically engaged, Balula’s works examine the intersection of philosophy, phenomenology, and physics.  For the Rome gallery, he has created an experiential trajectory that responds directly and specifically to the architecture. On entering the exhibition, visitors pass through a sculptural metal detector. A ubiquitous instrument of search and verification, the metal detector makes private belongings into objects of suspicion or potential threat. Its purpose is to reveal the metal, non-bodily material we carry with us each day—keys, coins, cell phone—that which we habitually treat as extensions of the self. The metal detector functions as a portal, further separating the idealized space of the gallery from the world outside.


In the first room, the visitor is invited to pick up and handle a stainless-steel ball, which sits in a ball-holder sculpted from local limestone. The carved holder evokes the organic softness and curves of skin, and the rendition of flesh and muscle as expressed by Italian master sculptors. The ball and holder explore the gravitational balance between body and earth, an invitation to consider one’s weight, mass, and density. In Air Between Fingers (2014), a 1:47 long video shot on an iPhone, Balula's thumb and middle finger hover with a millimeter of space between each fingertip, occasionally touching as his control over the minute space slips, in a mesmerizing display of the forces of gravity, friction, and magnetism that act upon and within the body.

The second, oval-shaped room of the exhibition contains a new series of Balula’s Burnt Paintings, made for the sweeping curve of the room’s wall. The works in this series contain two binary elements, one frame holding the charred charcoal residue of burnt wood, and a second frame holding a canvas imprinted with the charcoal of the burnt wood. In groups of two, three, or four frames to a work, these “paintings” sit together in positive and negative relationship, much like that of photography or printmaking. The process of making charcoal is slow and steady, with a gradual increase and decrease of heat so that the wood is not turned into ash, but retains the potential to burn again; the Burnt Paintings thus consider the cyclical, almost alchemical, transfer of energy in nature, a phenomenon fundamental to Balula’s work.


Der Tank of the Art Institute, Basel
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