Rough Seas
Thora Dolven Balke


Thora Dolven Balke (b. 1982, Oslo) lives and works between Oslo and Rio de Janeiro, where she completed the Capacete programme in 2016. Recent solo exhibitions are False Spring, Lydgalleriet (2020); You’re Dead, K4 (2020); FLOW, Cavalo, Rio de Janeiro and Melk (2019); and All that respires, conspires at UKS, Oslo and Ultima Festival (2017) – recent group exhibitions and other projects include Preliminares, Espaço C-A-M-A, São Paulo, Brazil (2021); Journey to the heartlands, Jyväskylä Art Museum, Finland (2020); Mind moves with matter, body blends into space, Kunsthall Trondheim (2019); Off the Page, Bergen Kunsthall (2017); Slutten, Kristiansand Kunsthall (2017); Innland, Centre Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré, Tours, France (2017) and The Young Lions, Preus Fotomuseum, Oslo (2017). Among other curatorial projects, Dolven Balke curated the biennale Lofoten International Art Festival – LIAF – with Linn Pedersen in 2011 and co-founded and programmed the artist-run space REKORD in Oslo from 2006 to 2010.

MELK is excited to present Rough Seas, Thora Dolven Balke’s third solo exhibition at the gallery that inaugurates our newly refurbished space at Hallings Gate. Featuring a new body of photographic and sculptural work.

The term Rough Seas evokes a sense of instability. It is used to describe a difficult situation or time, conjuring unrest, agitation or excitement. Despite the magnitude of its symbolism, it is also used to describe an intimate reality, as is often the case in the artist’s work. 

Dolven Balke depicts familiar situations in seemingly ordinary places, grown out of her own experiences. In her images there are figures relaxing by water, bones of aquatic animals, a grieving man lying on a picnic table, a woman pumping milk from her breasts or an MRI scanner with signs of recent use. Mundane scenes become condensed monuments to everyday life. Her photographs are often shown side by side with sculptures using tactile materials and recognizable objects.

The ongoing series FLOW shows original polaroids cut out from cast silicone objects. The material is skin-like, typically used in prosthetic limbs or special effects. These rectangular sliced bodies in different tones replicate water-resistant patterns such as anti-slip pads, dish drying mats, wetroom appliances and suction pumps. 

The artist finds tenderness in the unemotional materials that lend support in moments of frailty or affection. In the two sculptures that give the exhibition its title, parts of an ambulance stretcher cast in iron sink into pieces of mattress foam. The heaviness of these tools slowly pressures and shapes the contrastingly soft bodies displayed on the floor. The show also comprises two larger prints on transparent foil draped over folded blue bench paper – a kind of plastic paper used in medical examinations.

A stainless metal handrail greets the visitors at the entrance in an offer of support. The shiny and cold architectural feature, like a safety measure on the deck of a ship, curves around the wall and guides the audience into the exhibition. Albeit the exhibition’s tidy surface there is a massive suggestion of liquids flowing, spilling, draining, dripping and pumping. A playful reference to the wetness that accompanies care and intimacy, and the failed attempts to contain life’s relentless leakage.

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