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Olga Balema

In conversation with
Kees van Gelder

As part of the exhibition: What Enters
This took place before the opening on 14/06/2013

The artists invited to realize a project at 1646 are asked to engage in conversation with a correspondent via email or DM, be it someone previously unknown to them or whom they’re already familiar with.

This conversation spans the period before an exhibition is completed. 1646 invites the correspondent at the other end of this exchange to ask questions so they may be guided through the artist’s decision-making process and how their initial ideas develop toward completion. It provides insight into the artist’s body of work and is intended to paint a picture of the otherwise untraceable choices that constitute the artist’s practice.

KvG – OB

What I remember of your studio presentation one year ago is the

life size staples you put in the space as if they were naked actors

not to know exactly what to do with the following:

hanging screens and digital prints as background shapes

text blocks piled on top of each other

drop cloths, monitor screens and rolled up engraved carpets.

If I would be a staple – without factually stapling something for

the time being – I would be wondering as well about what to do in

a space with e.g. a “background shape” on a canvas that usually

hangs on a wall being a mere image – on the foreground, so to say.

MAY 28: OB – KvG

The “staples” : ) were doing what staples do, functioning through

exerting a feeling of pressure. The five monitors in the installation each displayed a version of an animation which spelled out

“Squeeze Through”, the animation was made by shaping a clip of the

finals scene of “Twilight IV: Breaking Dawn”, which shows the protagonist Bella turn from a human into a vampire.

What struck me about the transformation scene was that Bella blew

up and expanded, she entered a completely finite state in which

there was no more room for change. Somehow this makes me think of

objects and the way they have agency while being still. I wanted

to make this animation because I was interested in working with a

video clip in a similar way that I would work with a piece of steel.

The animation and the structures created a movement of expansion

and contraction.

The pieces of neoprene hanging and laying on the floor were printed with images from shampoo commercials. The commercials depicted an action rendered through digital effects that was the same as the

transformation scene, a dead hair ingesting in protein and coming alive. Neoprene is also very absorbent.

There was feeling coming out of the immaterial coldness

of digital effect of transformation, one that was very

material, one that become very involved in the materiality of the human body, pushing it through to the other side of the alien.

(The “Backgrounds” and the small monitor sculptures were

part of a different body of work, the staples didn’t have

to deal with them)

13 JUN: KvG – OB

It took quite some time for coming back to you. My sincere apologies!

Your interest in objects being in a state of change comparable to changing into a vampire is striking when I think about my first experience seeing your works in an

installation. I felt at once being in an hospital. There organic processes of curing or perhaps genetic engineering come into mind. It creates a strange sometimes

uncanny atmosphere…

14 JUN: KvG – OB

The printed shapes on canvas are free standing, they

float on an empty plane, so to say. The whiteness could

quite well function as a background, but the individual

shapes themselves seem to be meant as background if I

read the title well enough. Interesting that an outspoken form, a shape, is used in the second place in some kind of a hierarchy where something else is on the foreground, apparently in the first place. The images depicted in the ‘Background shapes’ are

printed on canvas. I guess, such a canvas may be used as

a background e.g. in one of your installations, but then

the canvas itself is turned into a position of a decor.

In that case another title would be more appropriate. If

the depicted shape is used as background, then it must

be a plan to make such a shape e.g. in one of your installations. So still work to do… or not.

These works (uniquely printed, if I am right) are ordinary prints on canvas, although following the code of a seriously made authorized artefact (referring to painting). I must say, a bequestioning strange title I have

here steering paradoxal readings.

21 JUN: OB – KvG

I think the idea of curing is interesting in relationship

to that particular body of work. But curing through maybe malevolent or unsavoury methods.

The uncanny bit of the healing process, ranging from

over-prescription of medication to attachment therapy. Healing practices today can often be ethically ambiguous and its difficult to know how exactly to deal with

our bodies. Not that I am somebody that distrusts modern medicine, but I do think that it provides for a certain anxiety.

When I see the bit in a shampoo commercial of the hair follicle is being infused with abstract formations of “proteins”, I feel as though it provides a general visualization, an imagination of how one’s body is fixed, that it

heals in smooth gel-like swoosh. It makes me imagine the

body as plastic, magical.

The scene that I picked from “Twilight IV” for the “Squeeze

Through” animation functions in a similar way to a shampoo commercials, it also uses pseudo scientific imaging to show the transformation from human to vampire. For me

it’s interesting to see these very similar depiction methods being used for different purposes, standardizing the depiction of bodily functions through digital effects.

In the new body of work I made for 1646 I think we would talk more about degeneration. There is material submerged in water and it elicits a strong bodily feeling.

This show is very different from the work that I have been

making recently, but still touches on the topic of the

visualization or perception of the body as alien somehow.

The sculptures are very low tech, they consist of a soft

PVC outer shell, water, steel, concrete, chilli peppers,

a tram rail, and a garden ornament.

They are also quite introverted, because they mostly refer to themselves, the entry point for the viewer lies

mostly in their materiality and their presence in the

space. They function a bit like voids, drawing in the

space around them.

22 JUN: KvG – OB

Aaaagh…., Olga, curing through malevolent and insensitive methods in order to come to achieve a healing process…..?! If I may position myself – as a viewer of your

work from a certain distance – in a light speedy personal three-moment historiography, i.e. a choice out of my soft hard disc (of my brains):

When I was a child of about 10 years old I quite often

went with my father to oneI remember an article from 1975 in an academic weekly Dutch newspaper Intermediair about Rhesus monkeys

that were literally cut off from sight by a brain surgery. They became blind and yet they could be trained to react on and ‘see’ dark and light objects in their


I remember the image from the late nineties of a mouse

bearing a human like ear (the ‘ear’ was actually an earshaped organic structure grown by seeding cow tissue cells).

Nowadays neuroscientists install on-off neuron switches in the brains of mice with the goal to isolate and knock out information of specific memories. “We know

from studies in both animals and humans that memories

are not formed in isolation but are built up over years

incorporating previously learned information”, American

neuroscientist Mark Mayford says. “This study suggests

that one way the brain performs this feat is to use

the activity pattern of nerve cells from old memories

and merge this with the activity produced during a new

learning session.”

It is likely that these personal experiences of remembrance may have triggered of what I wrote earlier to you about the atmosphere when stepping into your installation and work. This is me, apparently….

Olga, you once stated not so long time ago that individual imagination works as a critical authority and that an art object may be looked at from vagueness as a

starting point in the relationship between that object

and the viewer. This brings me to the position you are

in being someone collecting visuals, apparently- made of objects trouvés or hand made objects – waiting for per-

ceptual phenomena (from whom?). In this sense the collection of water conserved objects you show in 1646 at

this moment is perhaps closer to your previously made

works as an attitude, if it comes to how it is presented

as objects for the sake of conceivable interpretations

on the viewers side. If the above is me, how do you see

the images you collect, handmade or not, on your side?

25 JUN: OB – KvG

Thank you for sharing those three moments with me, it’s

interesting how one can relate to certain things through

very specific events in their lives.

As for the objects that are part of the sculptures: I was

trying to pick objects that were common place with little serious emotive value to me and probably to most other people. Therefore I chose mostly building materials,

decorative garden items I found in a discount shop, and

I bent some steel to look like ornamental gates or hand-

rails. I was trying to collect objects that were very generic and unspecific, ones that were perhaps specifically unable to trigger memories or association as you account-

ed to me in your previous email. Or that they would trigger so many memories and associations that none would be able to stand out.

I just wanted to use these materials to create a feeling

of severe physicality and they don’t have meaning outside of that. I was mostly thinking in mass, weight, volume,

of the five hospitals in the

Dutch district Zeeuws Vlaanderen he was working in as

the only internist. I am used to men and nurses in white

dresses keeping white mice in a laboratory injecting

them for the benefit of the patient’s health; amidst

chloroform, the attractive smell of ether mixed with the

dominating musty smell of mice.

those kinds of “sculptural” concerns. But also interiors

becoming exteriors becoming interiors…

Of course, I realized, when you encase anything in water,

it becomes very sentimental. I must admit that the idea

of decadence was stuck in my head as well while making

these, not that decadence is sentimental.

I also just saw the very sad images of small live turtles

being encased in water and sold as key chains, those are




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