Since the 10th Unilever Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern back in 2009, this is Miroslaw Balka’s first solo show with new works in London and his fourth at White Cube gallery. Titled DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL after Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), the Mason’s Yard exhibition runs with another parallel exhibition of the Polish artist at the Freud Museum in Northwest London, DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 75,32m AMSL. The accompanying numerals in both titles refer to the altitude (height above sea level) of each venue respectively.
The show at White Cube spans the gallery’s two levels. Two concrete sculptures occupy the ground floor area; 100 x 100 x 20 (2014) is a square block attached to the floor with an illuminated door handle from the inside and TTT (2014) is a curious item apparently inspired by “Dürer’s solid”, an enigmatic truncated triangular trapezohedron depicted in Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia I (The British Museum collections).
According to the supplemented literature, it also references the “Tarnhelm”, the helmet with magic properties (invisibility, transformation, teleportation) from Richard Wagner’s cycle of operas Der Ring des Nibelungen (1848-1874). The lower ground floor gallery space is solely roofed with Above your head (2014), a site-specific steel mesh canopy suspended from the ceiling and reaching a height of just 2.1 metres. A sound installation at the adjacent smaller space repeats in a form of whistling the music theme from the film The Great Escape (1963).
In the epicentre of Balka’s oeuvre we recurrently find memories of the Nazi presence and atrocities in Poland. The semiotics and symbolism of every work are heavily attached to extreme human situations. Imbued with an underlying minimalism, his sculptures are manifestations of tortured psyches and esoteric pathos.
The square concrete 100 x 100 x 20, visually synonymous with a grave plinth, is a closed door with a handle from the inside. Evocative of the underworld or simply another world or dimension, Balka seems to interlink our present status with distant Arcadias in Kippenbergerian tropes. His polyhedron TTT, is a conduit of escapism. You can either hide in it, or, if we were to embrace Wagner’s helmet magical hypostasis, become invisible and teleport ourselves in a locus far away.
Despite the immense claustrophobic effect of Above your head downstairs -and, for taller visitors it can be quite daunting as well as intimidating- the vast steel net hanging from above actually never descends, you have already escaped without having previously been confined. The monotonous whistling tune of The Great Escape impregnates a relief succeeding a deep sigh upon exiting the building and breathing fresh air.
For me, Balka’s show emerges as an inanimate mausoleum of a not so distant, nevertheless bygone, era. It is a cemetery embodying melancholy and optimism in perpetual collision. At the same time, the static nature of the works pronounces the unsettling nature of human detritus, scattered as carcases in natural environments, ghosts from the past and remnants of echoing and unnerving memories.
DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL, until 31 May, White Cube Gallery, Mason’s Yard, London. For more information visit www.whitecube.com.
1. 100 x 100 x 20, TTT, Miroslaw Balka. © Miroslaw Balka Photo: Jack Hems.