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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2021

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FEB 2021 Issue
ArtSeen

Mike Ballou: The word of Bird is Cured

Installation view: Mike Ballou: The word of Bird is Cured, STUDIO10, New York, 2020-21. Photo: Adam Simon.

On View
Studio 10
December 20, 2020 – March 6, 2021
Brooklyn

As the shortened mid-winter day moves into twilight, direct light passes through a series of cut out paper panels laminated over the windows of Studio 10 Gallery, currently host to Mike Ballou’s exhibition The word of Bird is Cured. This is the key moment of Bird Window (2020): the cut-outs are flocks of birds in flight, and as the gold afternoon sunshine catches their perforations the birds are obscured, becoming beads of light. The forms on the wall move with the motion of the sun, slowly but constantly, and there is a brief moment of ambiguity in which the cut-outs, the light behind the cut-outs, and the light projected onto the wall are all swept up in an undifferentiated cloud of illumined forms. This daily event is staged with the precise and calculated coordination of those long and intrepid beams that, on the 22nd of February and October, fall upon the statues of Ramesses II at his funerary temple at Abu Simbel. That is a biannual calendrical event, however, while this is daily, and each day it inches to the east and occurs slightly later in the day, making it not a holiday or memorial, but more a marker. That, however, is the nature of light shining through a keyhole, or down a stone hallway on a specific day. While the phenomena it illuminates are transient, the sun is infallible and reliable, like the inevitable continuation of life, or birds migrating south in the cold months. The room itself becomes a camera obscura that plays the passage of these flocks of birds across the wall all day, every day.

Installation view: Mike Ballou: The word of Bird is Cured, STUDIO10, New York, 2020-21. Photo: Will Corwin.

Ballou situates the viewer in the body of the camera: it’s an inhabitable tool and at the same time a theater or magic lantern. The opposing walls adjacent to the gallery’s window, those that don’t receive the winter light, present screens of stable consistency as a rejoinder to the mutable flickering of the wall that catches the window’s projections. These two side walls contain a site-specific drawing created with rubber stamps, Bird Mural (2020). Is this the opposite of the changing light and shadow projected onto the third wall? Does a moving image contradict a permanent mark? This is a difficult question, but if one acknowledges that there is much beyond the artist’s control in Bird Window, then Bird Mural is indeed something like its opposite. Here Ballou cuts out a rubber stamp, presses it to an ink pad, and then carefully places it on the wall, choosing precisely where it will go. The results of these two works, however, are strongly related, and yet totally different in their parentage—one a form created by something literally otherworldly, and the other human but no less magical.

Installation view: Mike Ballou: The word of Bird is Cured, STUDIO10, New York, 2020-21. Photo: Will Corwin.

Mike Ballou’s process is always DIY and the hand of the artist is always present—fingerprints in the clay and putty of his three-dimensional pieces, or the degree of force and direction one can see in the angle and severity of the cut he makes while perforating or trimming a form. In The word of Bird is Cured, the artist doesn’t just manifest his personal idiosyncrasies, he mimics generative rhythms of his own life. The wall facing the street of the exhibition is dedicated to the sun and the seasons, but the silence of the light’s movement is drowned out by the whirr of box fans, simulating breath, which are placed so as to inflate a pair of clear vinyl towers. These transparent standing forms are inscribed with words from the comic strips of Matthew Friedman. A word here, a passage there—reading the disembodied words is more a visual act than a conceptual one, as the words on one side of the transparent shivering forms intersect the words on the other side. Are these breathing structures a material metaphor for speaking? Ballou’s propositions align in a mystic syzygy of our bodily processes. There is seeing, breathing, and also the faint trickle of water in the form of a Fountain (2018) placed in front of the Bird Mural. While deeply reflective of the artist’s personal mannerisms, the works on view here also are linked to universal patterns, and by bridging that gap and reconfiguring these patterns in his own hand, Ballou makes sure they do not pass unnoticed.

Contributor

William Corwin

William Corwin is a sculptor and journalist from New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2021

All Issues