Thora Dolven Balke
October 17 – November 2 2014
The odd work out in Thora Dolven Balkes exhibition Attachments is a lone video screen with a recording of a ship simulator. The game’s original programming has been manipulated to allow for unnaturally high waves. Now, when wave height is set to maximum the sea turns into a violently creased, two-dimensional field. The cargo ship avatar heaves, sways, surges and rolls. It surfs the edges, then plummets and dives through glitchy walls of water, which breaks into jagged shards upon impact. The perspective occasionally shifts; suddenly the waves parade the screen in a way that resembles drawings of high frequency light waves. Even if the view here is disembodied—the camera-eye is not limited to the first person but can take in the scene from a virtually limitless number of angles—the ship is still where we invest our attention. Both the sense of purpose that we attribute it due to the cargo, as well as its seeming solidity—it never breaks or gets flattened like the waves—tempts identification. (Though Dolven Balke has selected not to use them, the simulator also features onboard cameras.) The ship offers a stable focal point in the middle of the upheaval, an identity that remains intact even as the animated environment collapses into jarring abstractions.
Most of the works in Attachments consists of HD-video recordings shown on LCD screens with analogue slides glued to them. Although both types of images get grouped under the general category of photography, they belong on opposite sides of a technological divide: one is a physical copy of a unique material inscription, the other is a duplicable code. In Dolven Balke’s works this gap is tentatively reduced to the imperceptible space between the photographic slide-film and the LCD panel it has been fastened to with strips of tape. Most of the slides are stills from the video sequence that is playing behind them, though not in the form of digitally exported frames; they are photographs of a projection of the video. A way to parse this activity is to think of it as a performance: The body, pacified by digital media, picks up a quaint technology—the analogue photo camera—in order to re-activate itself, get back in the game. It captures a frame from the video, processes it through analogue machinery, and then awkwardly returns the resulting image-object to the video by literally attaching it to the screen. With this pathetic coupling, the two images are integrated into an overall sculptural design—but the transparency of the slide also allows it to melt into the composition on screen. The action spills past its darkened, rectangular frame, casting it as a sort of viewfinder. The dialogue between the wholesome, synthetic materiality of the slide-film on the one hand and the shifting, pixelated content of the video on the other, echoes the relation between the cargo ship and the hacked wave formations in the simulator. We are only able to infer an actual sea from the glitchy and distorted waves if we let the ship’s movements map it for us. Dolven Balke’s photo-screen-combines offer a similar model: The slide-cum-viewfinder is an adumbration—or projection—of the perceiver.
There are a number of clues to back up a reading of Attachments that makes it less about the attributes of specific media and more about us. For one there’s the title’s sentimental connotations—though it homes deftly in on the deadpan act of taping photographs to screens, it also sounds like it could be the title of a TV-show that was set to explore the nature of human attachment through the lens of romantic relationships. Another is the often autobiographical charge of the images (though this biography is by no means a constant reference, Dolven Balke’s videos also feature animated sequences and imagery sourced from films and computer games). Finally, the use of analogue equipment that more so than digital processes requires the body to take part. Despite the dominant image type in the exhibition (at least in terms of square feet covered) being digital video, the impression one gets is pervasively analogue. The exhibition, it seems, is concerned with tethering the event on screen to a present body. In a sense, Dolven Balke’s attachments fold presence back onto the absence so often evoked in the discussion on digitisation. Slung over or stretched around three of the screens are silicone mats and latex sheets, there to ensure that the viewer not miss the point that they will have to tunnel to connect. As indicated by the slides harnessed to the neighbouring screens, it requires labour to be present among all this absence. And even then, presence is perhaps only a degree of opacity.