New York

Dennis Balk

American Fine Arts

Charting the points where the outer limits of theoretical physics meets the out-there limits of the metaphysical, Dennis Balk has created objects to go along with a discourse that hovers between real science and a science of the Real. Balk’s drawings on vinyl and Masonite sure look like science: there are computer-generated pictures of electromagnetic anomalies with names like “Houdini knot,” complete with impenetrable commentary, scrawled Magic Marker notations about “appearance frequency,” and plasma fields; there are rows of numbers and graphs where the y-axis equals time and the x-axis equals space. Elsewhere, you could immerse yourself more fully in the world that is, apparently, all around us by climbing under, and inside, a 360-degree display that hung from the ceiling. Using a Nova Jet printer, Balk reproduced various species of anomalous physical phenomena (the subject of all this feverish analysis) on a sheet of plastic suspended from the ceiling by means of an aluminum armature. Lit up by exterior spotlights, the anomalies were quite beautiful in their way, all sprawling ectoplasmic arms, spiraling tubes, and swirling sheets of—something. (Electromagnetic energy? Whatever it is that seeps out of holes in the space-time continuum?)

The graphs and charts on the wall pieces were also, perhaps purposefully, pretty obscure. They looked like science, too, resembling amoebas and protozoa or the things that live at the bottom of the sea; yet they also looked like science-fiction, like the stuff Buckaroo Bonzai brought back with him after his trip into the eighth dimension. It’s not until you started reading the text pieces on the wall (silk screen on canvas) that you realized this blurring of the real and the imagined was probably intentional. There were eight in all, straight-sounding memos about funding for research into time travel and spiritual contact intermingled with things like a want ad for an assistant to “Mentalist Max Maven” (a guy who “becomes one with the beam of television light”) and two different AP pieces about an instance of spontaneous combustion. That’s the narrative Balk sets up here: a trip along and across a fuzzy frontier, where the rows of mathematical equations that serve to define real macro- and microcosmic events are pressed into describing phenomena like ghosts or things that fall in and out of tiny rips in time or space.

Overall, it was like wandering through the office of one of Agent Mulder’s science-geek friends: someone who’s convinced that they’ve seen what’s behind the Big Lie. Here intrusions of the Real—which Zizek, reading Lacan, describes as a “rip in the fabric of reality”—were taken literally and given form as theoretical models. What’s in the gallery is what’s left behind after visitations to that “irreducible black hole at the core of our symbolic reality,” all the paperwork, news clippings, meeting announcements, drawings; all the attempts to make others believe in what’s been seen on the other side; the attempts to understand Real science. In Balk’s scientific theater—or theatrical science—it’s possible to see remnants of the Things that fall out of the gap, to view the sublime bodies in their many-tentacled splendor.

Mark Van de Walle