A giant "black hole" has been created in the cavernous turbine hall of London's Tate Modern
museum, in the 10th annual installment of the Unilever Series.
Polish artist Miroslaw Balka has constructed a huge steel container, held aloft on two-meter high supports, which is open at the far end of the space as visitors enter.
They can walk up a ramp into the pitch black space, measuring 13 meters high, 10 meters wide and 30 meters long.
Entitled "How It Is," the sculpture is designed to convey a sense of unease as the visitor walks into the container as if completely blind. The sculpture is on show from October 13 to April 5, 2010. "You can shape this yourself," Balka said of the commission. "The shape you create is not just about your body, it's about your mind."
The title of the installation takes its inspiration from Samuel Beckett's novel "How It Is," about a narrator who looks back on his life as he crawls through mud.
According to Tate Modern, around 22 million people have come to see the nine previous installations.
Miroslaw Balka is one of the most significant contemporary artists of his generation. His work has had critical acclaim both in this country and internationally. Comprising installation, sculpture and video, Balkas works explore themes of personal history and common experience drawing on his Catholic upbringing and the fractured history of his native country, Poland. Intimate and self-reflective, his works demonstrate his central concerns of identifying personal memory within the context of historical memory.
In works such as "Oasis" (C.D.F.) (1989), he suggests a domestic setting in which the daily rituals of human existence are played out. Eating and sleeping, love and death are evoked using materials which have a particular resonance for Balka such as milk, wooden planks from his childhood home and pine needles salvaged from the tree that grew outside his window. In this work dedicated to the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, Balka invokes both the spiritual and the everyday.
Central to Balkas work is the use of materials of humble quality such as ash, felt, soap, salt and hair to give a sense of spirituality through their association with lives lived and memories left behind. "Salt," for example, alludes to human emotions in the form of sweat or tears, whilst soap evokes the intimate yet universal daily rituals of cleansing as explored in "Hanging Soap Women" (2000), in which used bars of soap donated by women are strung together on a wire. In the installation, 190 x 90 x 4973 (2008), Balka constructs a wooden walkway with walls measuring 190cm high (the artists height) without any ceiling and made from simple common building materials such as plywood, creating a claustrophobic tunnel with no visible destination.
"Memorials" play an important role in Polish society but also in Balkas personal experience his grandfather was a monumental stonemason and his father an engraver of tombstones. His early performances and sculpture referred to his experience of the rituals of Catholicism, perhaps made more intense in a country where religion was repressed. In recent years he has focused on the Holocaust, which for Balka is a permanent scar on collective memory, with particular resonance in his home towns of Otwock and Warsaw. Despite the austerity of form and seriousness of his subject matter, Balkas work is often imbued with warmth reflecting his view that After seeing the sadness inscribed in the works maybe some spectators can see that joy can also be found in those moments of life that one lives to the full.
Miroslaw Balka represented Poland at the 45th Venice Biennale 1993, and has exhibited in major group exhibitions including Venice Biennale (2005); Site Santa Fe and the Sydney Biennale (both 2006). His recent solo exhibitions include "Tristes Tropiques" at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; "Lichtzwang" at K21, Düsseldorf; "Cruzamento" at Museo de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; "Reflejos condicionados" at Fundacion Botin, Santander (all in 2007); "Entering Paradise + BGE" at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; "Jetzt" at WRO Art Centre, Wroclaw, Poland; and "Nothere" at White Cube, London.
"The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka" is curated by Helen Sainsbury, Curator, Tate Modern, assisted by Maeve Polkinhorn, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.