In September, 2017, we presented the new installation "Construction/Demolition/Salad" in Threewalls' booth at EXPO Chicago.
The installation examined perishability from the standpoints of the city, buildings (specifically hotels), and food. The work Incorporated two "Construction/Demolition/Salad" triptychs, the illustrations "The Radial Model" and "Cultivation Cycles...", and the sculptural installation-meets-artists' book, "Even the Apple."
We "exploded" the artists' book into EXPO by wrapping apples in the printed vellum nesting pages and giving those apples to fair-goers as a take-away—introducing a gift economy to the art-as-commerce thrust of the fair.
The curator and critic Kristin Korolowicz wrote this lovely essay on our work:
Apples to Apples: The City as an Organism/ The Building as a Body
As in a biological organism, the city is composed of a number of elements which, once combined, create a complex ensemble that becomes the bearer of a greater significance than the sum of its elements. The city is a “combinatoire” in which, at all levels of organization, phenomena of communication, going in all directions, establish themselves in a complex structure. If the city is a complex organism, it is also a living organism, evolving with time.
—Henri Lefebvre, International Competition for the New Belgrade
Urban Structure Improvement (1986)
In the multifaceted practice of Balas & Wax—Susannah Bielak and Fred Schmalz’s ongoing collaboration—research, chance encounter, and material exploration are employed to draw fertile connections between social histories and contemporary urban dynamics.
Comparable to the way theorist Henri Lefebvre compared cities to complex living organisms, Balas & Wax investigate the visible and invisible inner workings of daily urban life. Over the course of their iterative process, they use moving images, texts, sounds, two-dimensional works, and sculptures to develop multivalent projects responding to the particularities of a locale. “Sitedness” is a key tenet of their work.
The urban landscape of Chicago, with all of its structural imbalances, eccentricities, and buried histories, is a major source of inspiration for the duo. Their project Fourth Horizon, presented at the Experimental Sound Studio in 2016, grew out of an encounter with an uncanny image of a theater stage installed on a pier over Lake Michigan at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Discovered while researching the construction and demolition of hotels, the image led them to a broader exploration of telepathy, psychical connection, and the design of spaces for imagination in daily life.
Their ongoing investigations weave together archival research and field work, making room for chance discoveries and unexpected connections, which are important to guiding the final project. For example, their interest in the nuances of urban development led them to the layered histories of hotels, which in turn led them to the Edgewater Beach Hotel as a case study. This search raised other questions: What do hotels reveal about urban development? What collaborative and exploratory methods best apply to this subject matter?
For Expo Chicago 2017, the community-based arts organization Threewalls presents Balas & Wax’s new installation Construction/Demolition/Salad. This constellation of projects ruminates on the subject of perishability as it relates to the life cycles of food and buildings; an analogy that extends comparisons of architecture to the body, city to living organism. A photo triptych depicting a hotel’s construction, a meticulously plated Technicolor salad tower, and a hotel’s demolition anchors the visual display. As with Fourth Horizon, a research discovery inspired the project. Here, the catalyst was a 1928 salad cookbook authored by a chef from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The triptych’s found and original photographs draw formal and conceptual parallels between the life cycles of hotels and salads. How are these seemingly disparate things indicative of the production of consumer desire, whether at the scale of architecture or a plate of food? For Balas & Wax, this mode of telescoping is inspired by Francis Ponge’s poems, particularly the way his work imagines the inner life and thoughts of everyday objects.
Reimagining the relationships between these coordinates of conspicuous consumption, one finds in the installation that a crate of apples becomes an artist book; loose sheets of tissue paper contain poems and free apples for passersby, and two diagrammatic pieces flank the space, featuring empirical classifications of urban development schemas interlaced with textual interventions. According to the artists, it transforms the art fair booth into a grocery store display of sorts, which simultaneously reveals and complicates these object studies and social histories.
The conceptual underpinnings of Construction/Demolition/Salad nod to Henri Lefebvre’s ideas on the social production of space, but the theoretical foundation for the project is more closely tied to Bill Brown’s Thing Theory (2001). At once a generous and elliptical work, one sees the questions that this project proposes in relation to its own “sitedness” within the context of a commercial art fair. The rows of apples nestled in this display begin to recall the row upon row of fair booths, creating new analogies to the perishability of things.