Detroit

Ivin Ballen

Susanne Hilberry Gallery

Ivin Ballen is an artist who confronts questions pertaining to the deteriorating political situation in the United States, but does so in largely formal terms. “50/50,” the title of Ballen’s recent exhibition, alludes to the dual nature of a practice that incorporates both painting and sculpture. Yet in spite of this apparent split, Ballen’s processes here remained roughly consistent. He constructs three-dimensional models using an improvised mixture of cardboard, masking tape, plastic, and found objects. Ballen then makes molds from these ad hoc compositions, which he fills with Aqua-Resin and fiberglass to yield a precise negative imprint, a procedure that homogenizes the often incongruous, unruly constructions, which are destroyed in his “lost model” casting process.

In works like the outlandish Province, 2007, which incorporates the imprint of a soft toilet seat, the untamed character of the work’s initial phase of manufacture is reprised in Ballen’s application of gregarious passages of blue, orange, yellow, red, and pink oil, acrylic, and gouache to the resin surface. The result is a baffling trompe l’oeil effect whereby paint alternately emulates and undermines the mimetic Aqua-Resin–fiberglass mixture, generating incompatible and often counterintuitive visual and tactile experiences. Consequently, while one textured resin passage might be elaborated with paint to ape the original cardboard construction, elsewhere Ballen’s approach is less determined, yielding fanciful abstract passages.

Jessica Stockholder’s knack for bringing formal resolution to collections of Technicolor detritus, and Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines” series and cardboard pieces, are obvious referents for this practice. Ballen, however, selects and manages his materials rather differently. While Stockholder and Rauschenberg use an additive process, with each material supplement to their composition an intelligible index of their thinking, Ballen’s practice is less immediately legible. Rauschenberg and Stockholder assimilate, reconfigure, and re-present en masse the sundry objects that compose their assemblages, and in doing so establish material and narrative connections between those objects that are as capricious, ungainly, and suggestive as the works themselves. By contrast, Ballen includes only the shadow, trace, or negative of the materials that provide the initial structure of his molds, embroidering on their absence to produce an entirely new image that in turn implies a wholly other order of thought. In so doing, he establishes both the integral relation of his work to the everyday materials that are its basis and, more vitally, his capacity to transform quotidian forms into something more variously suggestive.

The logic of Ballen’s methodology, then, thematizes the relationship of art production to the cultural world, asserting the transformative potential of the artist’s project. Though in much of this work a conventionally defined subject remains elusive, in its place the artistic process itself emerges both as the structure and the subject of Ballen’s practice. So while at this juncture the artist’s concerns are chiefly formal, his procedural logic contains the potential for a deeper, more fertile engagement with a theoretically infinite range of subjects. Ballen’s work, then, is not hermetic art about art, but rather a practical examination of the capacities of art as a relational device.

Christopher Bedford