The title of the work filling the central hall of Muzeum Śląskie, Katowice is composed of the Latin alphabet punctuations. It is opened with a quotation mark followed by a square and a round bracket, a full stop, semicolon, comma, colon, question mark, exclamation point, dash, and a suspension point, closed again with brackets and quotation mark. It looks like a visual allegory of an equation with multiple unknowns, hence impossible to solve. And yet this very notation quite accurately specifies the artistic situation we face in this case. The gigantic sculpture made of trapezoidal sheets is actually a drawing developed into the third dimension. It represents a scheme of an X-ray image of chest with an exposed outline of lungs. However, this black-and- white negative, photographic plate is impossible to be viewed as a whole as the windows, spread along the three tall walls of the hall, are closed with yellow panes allowing only to see a blurry outline of the work. It can be acknowledged during a walk along dark corridors of varied widths and temperatures. Therefore the sculpture consists in fact of several areas exposing the viewer to various sensations, freeing imagination and contemplation. First we enter the quotation mark which differentiates art from non-art, then go through the zone of a bracket within a bracket which is to prepare us for contact with the unknown. Finally we are subjected to the action of more stimuli waking up the senses: touch, sight, balance, feeling of temperatures. The artist does not know what sensations and feelings will accompany the viewer when they contact the work of art; its title is a mere list of possibilities, brought down to laconic symbols from the domain of orthography – an international code understandable to anyone who ever learned reading.
With the entire exceptionality of the undertaking in Katowice, it can be a part of the wide yet very individualised area of artistic decisions of Mirosław Bałka. The very essence of the poetics he pursues is the space that is not fully identified or not completely definable, which spreads between the appearance of forms, their interrelations, context of the exhibition place, its identity, character and proportions – and the titles referring both to individual objects and to the entire exhibitions. This is what characterised that area – it is the obstinate delving into the sense of each sculpting gesture and a simultaneous persistent knocking it out from the conceptual clarity which we are inclined to seek when in contact with a work of art. The three-dimensional drawing that fills the hall of the Katowice museum invites you to enter inside. Differently than in the earlier “containers” from Tate Modern or Warsaw Zachęta, in case of this structure, circulation can take place in multiple directions, along the corridors indicated by the lines defining the shape of lungs concealed within the “body of art”. The artist has reached information that the level of pollution in Silesian air is one thousand times higher than the admissible standard, annually causing the death by asthma of fifty thousand people. Healthy lungs are silver-grey by nature – just like the floor in the museum hall. The colour of the lungs can be checked during an autopsy or in the course of a surgery. Both procedures require a drastic bodily intrusion. Without this kind of operation their true appearance is inaccessible to human eye, we can only look at an X-ray plate which shows as white everything that is black, just as the lungs of many Silesians. The “inside” of the drawing cannot be entered, either – without disturbing the external shell. Trapezoid sheet is the skin of the work in this case – the material that is almost symbolically associated with the construction makeshift, used to erect garages, storages, containers and fencing as well as mines, for example some of the buildings at the Krupińskiego plant in Suszec. The sheet is the colour of coal whose deposits determined the direction for the development of this region, decided on its infrastructure as well as political and economic significance. Many centuries of extraction of that resource were associated with drilling underground drifts, whose dense network runs right beneath the urban development. A crosssection through the geological layers of this region must remind of a bone affected by osteoporosis – a disease that weakens its structure. A slight impact can cause breaking. A minor seismic earthquake is enough for a section of a city to go underground.
Most European mines have been closed. They are unprofitable, also due to the threats for the safety of human health and life, which are typical for the coal mining area. Museums are erected in their territories, while ecological rehabilitation processes are initiated in the polluted areas. Muzeum Śląskie, Katowice was also established in place of a coal mine. However, many of those coals operate to this date. Miners still go underground to drill narrow tunnels in darkness. The deeper, the hotter it is. The maximum temperature a human body can reach is 42–43 degrees Celsius. Denaturation or coagulation of protein in cells occurs above this limit. Mine workings, drifts and channels are invisible from the street level. Muzeum Śląskie is also invisible from that level – its existence is only evidenced by glass cubes that provide light to the inside of the underground structure. The central hall is located at the depth of twelve metres and it creates a gigantic concrete chamber into which Bałka inscribed his multidimensional drawing in the way that disturbed the feeling of its actual proportions. Vertical and horizontal distributions have confined the visible field and have cut off the viewers from the light with an oppressively low ceiling. Only the middle tract which has the form of a Renaissance one-point perspective, leads into a faint glow. Moving along the metal walls in the darkness, we start to feel heat and the temperature increases as the passageway narrows. The walls are heated to 45 degrees Celsius in the tightest passage. This heat is fatal for human body.
The corridors constructed by Bałka are not a simple transfiguration of mining workings. The artist’s attention is focused more on the condition of the human organism and its limitations. Nevertheless the artist is not preoccupied with the unstable border between the health and disease – as he did in the 1990’s. Now he talks about the fragile border of life. Here and now, not anywhere, whenever. This way he manages to execute an artistic parable that unites the two organisms: human and urban – in a wider perspective depicting the functioning of the entire metropolis, made of people, houses, mines. All this encompasses both individual and collective life: the aspects visible to the naked eye and those concealed – inside the body or underground.
Mirosław Bałka „[(.;,:?!–…)]”
Muzeum w Strefie Kultury, ul. T. Dobrowolskiego 1, Galeria jednego dzieła
Exhibition curator: Anda Rottenberg
Organisational coordinator: Urszula Mikoś
© 2017 Muzeum Śląskie. Wszelkie prawa zastrzeżone. Muzeum Śląskie jest instytucją kultury Samorządu Województwa Śląskiego współprowadzoną przez Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego.