Davide Balula

Atomic clocks, first developed in 1949 in the United States, regulate universal time according to the resonance of atoms. The frequency of these fundamental particles, often of cesium or rubidium, creates a simple motion analogous to that of a sonic wave—a correlation that anticipates French artist Davide Balula’s coupling of sound and time. At the entrance to his exhibition “De la place pour le sable” (Room for Sand), Balula unhinges the standard measure of speed and duration by setting the hands of each of the twelve clocks in Les Humeurs, 2007, at dramatically different speeds. Launching a visually discordant composition, the arrangement of white-faced timepieces reflects a chorus of moods and pitches. Similarly, Balula uses mechanisms inside two shiny black porcelain globes, Variable Time Peninsula and Atomic Clock Peninsula, both 2007, to recompose the tempo of digital clocks. As explained in accompanying press material, the latter work jams the radio signal that broadcasts the legal time across an area forty meters in diameter, while the former manipulates the fluctuating pace of “minutes” on a single digital screen, forcing the standardized units of time to visibly stretch and shrink.

Balula, who is also an electronic musician, draws latent melodies into his visual practice. For example, in Hour Glass, 2007, he pulses a languorous rhythm in a pair of glass jars filled with blue ink, alternately illuminated by coiled neon tubes submerged in the dark liquid. Nearby, his grisaille watercolor diptych Static Power Series: The Carbox Potential, 2007, pictures a pair of cardboard boxes, one with its top flaps slightly open. Paired with Static Power Series: The Wooden Pause, 2007, a large wooden crate filled with Styrofoam peanuts that rise and settle in staccato bursts, the watercolors seem like sheet music, the silent antecedent to performance.

In Heartbeat Exciter (Stimulateur cardiaque), 2006, a sleek sculptural installation suggestive of a DJ booth, Balula “feeds” the roots of nettle plants with the recorded beat of a human aortic valve. Nettles are widely believed to be good for the heart, and Balula sets out to see if the reverse is true as well. The configuration has aesthetic parallels to the work of Victor Grippo, particularly to his simple organic and electrical configurations such as the power-generating potatoes of Analogy 1, 1970/77. Balula echoes the Argentine artist’s way of metaphorically enlisting elemental processes in the demonstration of invisible, and often poetic, sources of energy.

Balula’s Concrete Step, Memory Recorder, 2005/2007, collects the audible activities inside the gallery throughout the duration of the show. Sitting in the middle of the space, the piece consists of two microphones positioned at the top of a towering metal stand and connected to an orange aluminum suitcase containing recording equipment—thus packing the audio space of the exhibition into a portable device (which he has also used to make recordings in Las Vegas and New York). One thinks of Marcel Duchamp’s boîte-en-valise, of course, but also of Marcel Broodthaers. While Broodthaers filled his Valise Charbon, 1967, with mussels rather than sound, both artists work to displace the traditional art object in order to expose the underlying system—in Balula’s case, a solid backbeat.

Lillian Davies