Carel Balth

Early Research1968 - 2000

Recent Light2000 - today

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Early years (1968 – 2000)

By Marek Wieczorek

In Balth’s work artistic and cultural insights are, from the early beginnings, always in pace with recently developed technologies. A minimal, yet poetic approach enhances the conceptual complexity of his issues.

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Carel Balth started his career in the late 1960’s, realizing abstract Light Objects, made of crystal clear plexiglass.

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All Light Objects consist of crystal-clear Plexiglas and take light as their medium. Balth thus sought to concretize light as clearly as possible, and to allow light and matter to flow into each other, thereby involving the viewer in the process of separating the two. The first works in the series often have shiny metal bands set into the Plexiglas, which reflect the light in poetically suggestive ways. Later works, such as the rods (long, hanging bars, which are able to turn slowly), actively play with light through the subtle movement in the refractions of the light. Some of the works also have color, which is not always directly visible as paint, resulting in a mysterious, radiant effect around the object. The largest group consists of simple rectangles that, by way of cuts into the material, project a light- and shadow line on the wall. They retain a remarkable luminosity, especially under lower light conditions, thereby apparently enhancing the light lines, which causes marvel at such a simple given.

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1976 - 1978: Then he integrated this concept of ‘light within matter’ with a pure, basic form of photographic reality: Light Photoworks

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In the Light Photo Works Balth uses photography to reflect on the nature of 'reality' in the perception of natural and artificial light.

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From 1979-1982 he put the idea of Collage in a new perspective: The New Collages

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Balth plays on the idea of reflection — the photograph reflecting earlier reality, while the collaged foil literally reflects light here and now. The viewer, in turn, reflects on the real-scale juxtaposition. Balth revived collage to include the medium of photography. He used commonplace motifs and emphasized materiality by maximizing contrasts and similarities: the light raking across the walls, the shadow cast by the foil, its curvature in real space, and the curves resulting from the cutting out of shapes. These elements reveal what is real and what is only represented, while putting the idea of collage itself into question.

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1997 - 1991: In Suite I+II light beams were projected on reality in the dark night.

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Balth arrived at these images by projecting a razor-sharp rectangle of white light into the darkness of night. The at times capricious, at times solid shapes that resulted represent an attempt to address reality by means of artificial light in a rather abstract manner, by concretizing, rather than simulating. In discussions of photography, from C. S. Pierce, via Roland Barthes and Rosalind Krauss, the question of indexicality has been key, an ontological question, which lends to photography a reality effect because the print is an (indexical) trace of light captured on the sensitive plate. Due to the laminate on these photos, rich contrasts have been well preserved — the night is truly black, attaining a sort of materiality that contrasts with the lighter parts, which sometimes appear sculptural, sometimes take the form of a hesitatingly searching line.

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1982 - 1986: Polaroid Paintings: Balth intervened in the brief developing process and the character of Polaroid photographs.

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The Polaroid Paintings is a group of works created by blown up images of Polaroid pictures manipulated during their developing process. In the short time that is needed for a Polaroid film to develop instantly, Balth applied pressure to the film and the chemical emulsions inside the film, influencing the image. The result is a mixture of reality with an additional layer of imagery, suggesting to be a registration of intangible things such as memory or feelings. After this manipulation, Balth enlarged the picture to a monumental size, sometimes leaving the typical Polaroid border around the image.

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1986 - 1996: Then he realized in the Laser Paintings a new space for the viewer.

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The Laser Paintings derive their name from a process Balth developed in the mid 1980s. He scanned an image with a laser scanner, which he then manipulated and printed enlarged on canvas. Because the canvas ran untreated and unprimed through the large inkjet plotter, the pigments in this dot-shooting process were not sprayed onto but into the canvas, resulting in beautiful sfumato color effects. In the series which Balth in playful homage to Proust called A la recherche, we find images that are at first sight difficult to place, because the motif — the brushstroke of Monet from his Nymphéas series of waterlillies — was already blown up 2,500 times on the scanned photograph. Moreover, Balth had wrinkled the paper of the photograph, so that the image enhances the sense of something that flows. The references to Monet’s brushstroke, the capturing of the light of the moment, the sfumato of flowing color, and the disorienting effect which Leo Steinberg also noted in Monet’s Nymphéas all again conjure up an image of a water landscape of sorts.

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1995 - 2000: The Natsune Paper Works: layers of thin japanese paper turned into floating flexible objects.

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In the Natsune Paper Works (1995-200), several layers of traditionally crafted, ultra thin Japanese paper are turned into floating, flexible objects, that suggestively incorporate motifs from the other series.

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1997 - 1999: The Vinyls: the deeper qualities of light on pliable surfaces.

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These works are driven by a search for the deeper qualities of light and reflection, yet their pliable surface and often contemplative moods invoke a Proustian search for lost time.