New York

Dennis Balk

American Fine Arts

The visual presentation of Dennis Balk’s work is dead simple; so much so that at first it is difficult to grasp what links its appearance with its meaning. Forty-nine carrot and 69 celery sticks laid out in configurations of twos, threes, and fours on folding tables. Textbook-style drawings of physical and mechanical processes shown from multiple perspectives. Corporate fundraising materials stacked around a standard podium. Four napkin sets arranged in overlapping grids and pinned to the wall with schematics, along with illustrations of a four-stage philosophical system Balk calls “Quantum Journalism.” And then there’s Alexandria, 1992–93, Balk’s self-published novella, in which various characters disseminate the conundrum of that ancient city’s library and show us how we dramatize history.

Each component of the installation fused the familiar and the complex, functioning as a structural model for key aspects of Quantum Journalism which attempts to trace, from Hellenism to the present, the development of what Balk terms “the subjective mind” within a field of “extensive relations.” Preliminary, 1993, emphasizes the portable and the relational and, as the title suggests, designates something prior to the main event. Perhaps with pun intended, the tables are “set” with cut-up vegetables that function as basic building-blocks, exhibiting series of relations analogous to the mathematical properties that form the basis of set theory. Similarly, Incomplete Display for a Fund-Raising Event, 1993, stages another “antecedent event.” Various partially unpacked printed materials, including posters, brochures, cards, books, and annual reports were stacked around a podium pushed against a wall. In suggesting that these materials were assembled prior to the anticipated “fund raiser” and that the display itself is incomplete, Balk makes reference to the notion of the antecedent as it is used in logic, defining this work as a conditional element of a hypothetical proposition.

The literal presentation of an “antecedent body,” or stand-in body, one established as such in both works, metaphorically demonstrates a key concept of Quantum Journalism. Within the field of extensive relations (ourselves and our bodies in discursive relation to the world), Balk identifies the antecedent body as the pinnacle of subjectivity. Each component of the installation, at varying and expanding levels of complexity, is directed toward the investigation of how we measure and provide models for its exploration. In Napkin Sets, 1993, the inquiry is laid out in four stages and incorporates, in part, different phenomenological and spatial models of how we consciously apprehend the world and develop cognitive self-awareness. Alexandria is an allegory of this process, and in its very form—at once allegorical and journalistic—invokes how “the most objective physical reality, quantumly speaking, is always determined by the subject.”

Balk’s art, in a sense, functions as a series of “nexus environments,” progressing from antecedent bodies (the tables and settings, the podium and presentational materials), to illustrations of objects, processes, and spatial models (the large pencil drawings, for example), to a quasi-historical book (the truthful account of a fictional event). Balk’s relational factor is analogous to Joseph Kosuth’s early investigations, in which the object, the representation of the object, and the textual definition of the object are presented as an ensemble. Indeed, one must consider Balk’s work as an extension of early Conceptual art. Yet if we allow for Sol LeWitt’s formulation that “the philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and is not an illustration of any system of philosophy,” then, in the strictest sense, Balk’s work is something other than classically Conceptual. Philosophy is, indeed, implicit in his art; yet his art consists precisely in the development of a system of philosophy that might ultimately be termed quantum metaphysics.

Jan Avgikos