Olga Balema’s objects appear bewildering. Formed of industrial materials such as plastic or metal there is something organic inherent in them at the same time. They revolve around the relationship between man and environment, an environment which today is irreversably shaped by humans. The works in her exhibition for Capri are installed in tight abundance, while at Kunstverein Nürnberg, where they were previously seen, they were spread more generously. They allude to agricultural food production and our associated consumer behavior. Overproduction, in all its absurdity and aggression, is noticeable up close in Balema’s installation within the small space.
The theme of agriculture, the use of plants and animals has always been characterized not only by utilitarianism, but also by violent occupation, manipulation and exploitation, which rapidly increases with industrialization. The problematics of excess and technical mastery of the earth have already been discussed in the 1950s by philosophers such as Günter Anders, Georg Jünger or Martin Heidegger: "The world becomes an object. The earth itself can only show itself as the object of attack. Nature appears (...) the subject of technology." In his famous lecture The Question Concerning Technology (1953) Heidegger speaks of the technical access that transforms nature into potential “inventory”, a mere resource that may constanly be re-calculated.
In her sculptures Balema references this aspect and at the same time opens our eyes to the "monstrous", the "strange", which is always inherent in the perception of nature. With the exhibition title Blasted Heath she refers to the name of a manor house from HP Lovecraft's story The Colour Out of Space which tells of a meteor strike: the explosion contaminates every life in the area, vegetation grows exuberantly but loses all aroma and flavor, animals are born insane and with deformed bodies, people go mad and die one after the other. The term "Blasted Heath" is also found in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, filmed by Roman Polanski in 1971 - it's the barren land on which the witches live; a magical and dangerous place in a story about misguided ambition. Perhaps Lovecraft found the name for the farm in his narrative here.
Balema’s installation at Capri is reminiscent of a barn that might belong to this farm. The sculptures have titles such as "Natural submission", "Latest scientific research" or "Full of pests" and, due to their shape and colors, remind of feeding throughs both archaic and industrial at the same time. In her metal sculptures "Regulatory Bodies" or "Weeds I - IV" Balema combines strong materials such as metal with organic materials such as salt pickled cucumber slices. Corrosion and oxidation appear on the surfaces, pointing to decay and the power of physical processes. Lettering on the metal sculptures refers to government authorities, who see themselves as institutions for the preservation and renewal of water, soil and land.
Olga Balema (* 1984, Lviv, Ukraine) lives in Berlin. She studied sculpture at University of Iowa, USA and New Media at University of California, Los Angeles. In recent years she showed solo exhibitions at Croy Nielsen, Berlin and at High Art, Paris. She has participated in numerous group shows, including Nature after Nature at Fridericianum, Kassel in 2014, the 2015 Triennial at New Museum, New York.
Text: Gesine Borcherdt, Curator of CAPRI