21 March – 31 May 2014
This was the artist’s first show in London since ‘How It Is’, the Unilever Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern, London in 2009 and his fourth with the gallery.
Entitled ‘DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL’, the exhibition ran concurrently with ‘DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 75,32m AMSL’, an exhibition of new work at Freud Museum London. The title of both exhibitions relate to the original German title of Sigmund Freud’s classic work The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). The measurements in the title suggest the exact geographical height in metres above sea level of White Cube Mason’s Yard and Freud Museum London. Different words and meanings are carried within the title: the English ‘Die’ and ‘Trauma’; the Latin ‘Deu’, which means ‘God’, and the Albanian ‘Tung’, which means ‘Bye’.
Balka's work is imbued with gravity and with the metaphorical and physical weight or presence of the body. Underpinned by the collective memory of recent history, his work often employs poignant materials that evoke temperature, light or an olfactory sense as well as having a strong visual symbolism. In this exhibition, the themes of surface and depth, ‘above’ and ‘beneath’ were treated as both a physical and mental landscape. The exhibition also pointed to questions of ‘pollution’ and how history can leave traces in the form of artifacts and scars on the landscape and our collective response to them.
In the White Cube exhibition a concrete sculpture sat on the floor in the ground floor gallery. Square in shape and measuring 100cm x 100cm x 20cm, it resembles a low, empty plinth or a door to a space beneath. A handle is illuminated from underneath, indicating the warmth and glow of some kind of living presence. Functioning as a point of entry or, equally, a dead end, the sculpture suggests both a shelter and a grave.
Another concrete sculpture in the gallery, TTT (2014), is a truncated trapezohedron, open on one side so it can serve as a shelter. This work, which is echoed by a sculpture of the same shape at Freud Museum London, is inspired by Albrecht Durer’s famous engraving Melencolia 1 (1514), and also relates to ‘Tarnhelm’, the magic helmet from Richard Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold (1876). The dwarf in the opera, Albreich, disappears when he puts on the helmet, uttering the famous sentence: ‘Nacht und Nebel, niemand gleich / Siehst du mich, Bruder?’(‘Night and fog, like to no one / Can you see me brother?’). This, in turn, relates to a video work Nacht und Nebel (2014) in the exhibition at Freud Museum London.
The artist continued the theme of refuge and confinement in the lower-ground floor gallery. Here the volume and proportions of the gallery space were transformed with a site-specific sculpture entitled Above your head (2014). Consisting of a steel mesh canopy, which had been created out of sections of chain-link fencing that covered the entire ceiling, the internal height of the gallery was reduced to a mere 2.1 metres. The resulting space was claustrophobic and intimate making the public, social space of the gallery into a large cage. The smaller lower-ground floor gallery presents a sound sculpture; the theme tune of the film The Great Escape (1963), whistled by the male members of the gallery staff.
‘DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 75,32m AMSL’ ran at Freud Museum London from 19 March – 24 May 2014. The exhibition was curated by James Putnam and supported by the Polish Institute. www.freud.org.uk