Random Access Memory - Miroslaw Balka
White Cube Mason's Yard, London
Until 9th March 2019 (FREE entry)
While most of the press seems to have been focused on Tracey Emin’s exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, Random Access Memory by Polish artist Miroslaw Balka has been flying under the radar at White Cube Mason’s Yard.
The exhibition is highly timely but need a bit of contextualisation for someone unfamiliar with the artist to relate. There are two virtually identical works being shown, each in a separate room. They are corrugated heated metal, almost floor-to-ceiling, temporary walls leaving a one-meter gap at the top. The walls divide the gallery space in a way that a lot of room is left unseen and inaccessible behind them (you probably would only know that if you had been to the White Cube before). And that’s it, make of it what you will (not that that is a bad thing!). Now, without elucidation you wouldn’t even know you could touch the artwork. I was fortunate to be visiting in a group setting and have one of the curators at the gallery talk to us about the artist and his works. I had another level of appreciation then.
The title of the exhibition, Random Access Memory, all of a sudden made a lot more sense. RAM is something that most of us have heard of but that very few of us actually know what it is and even fewer know how it works. The artist extrapolates the concept of computer data storage to more universal notions of memory be it personal, social, historical or political. Walls being extremely timely in a world of Trump. In addition to the visual side Balka likes to engage with the viewers' other senses (I personally love that). The artist heats the metal walls to 45 degrees Celsius a temperature that he calls the "danger temperature" at which most of us would be close to death (and some of us already dead). I had a hard time linking all the themes that Miroslaw tried to touch upon with this work. But perhaps they don't need to be linked.
Interestingly, these works don’t seem to be entirely representational of Balka’s practice. We were taken upstairs to see some of his other works. And I am so glad we did. There were a couple of more figurative and less conceptual works. But my favourite was Steel and Soap, 2018 - a tower of used soap bars held together by a metal cable that went through the middle of each soap bar. Miroslaw is a Polish artist and the holocaust theme permeates some of his works. What do soap bars have to do with concentration camps? - I hear you ask. I am just going to let you google that.
To me this exhibition was an invitation to learn more about Miroslaw Balka's practice. I have a soft spot for Poland and the Polish people (not that that should matter anyway). I found a couple of short videos (four to five minutes each) on the gallery's website that give an insight into Balka's practice. The artist spends sometime talking about the works in the exhibition in one of the videos while in the other he takes us to his studio in his childhood home in Otwock, Poland. In talking about the messiness of his studio and how purposefully far away it is from a tidy white cube Miroslaw says “I don’t have to prove it by the quality of my studio, I prove it by the quality of my thoughts. And this is important for me.” That he refers to the quality of his thoughts as opposed to the quality of his works says a lot about the artist. What he does should instigate thought. That’s what is important to him. I really like that. I respect that.
If you intend to see this exhibition I would recommend contacting them first to see if you could pop upstairs to see Balka's other works. And read the one pager they give out. It helps!