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Carel Balth

Early Years    2000



The most recent body of works is called Videowatercolors. The name conjures up the image of two mediums that are apart in effect and time, yet have the flow of the image in common. Balth executes his works on archival silk baryte, encausted in a specially matted epoxy, which provides a deep clarity and saturation of colors.
He takes ample advantage of the enlightening visual possibilities offered by the digitally produced imagery. Flatness becomes spacious, grey proofs to be full of color. The unrecognizable gets recognizable, unsharp and razor-sharp coexist in every piece. Light and Perception, perhaps his main tools, are omnipresent.

Videowatercolors overicht

In Moving IV of 2002, which at first sight has something sensual about it, possibly being a blown up image of lips, we actually see a red seat Balth videoed on a train. The light shifts with the movement of the train and time, the pliable skin of the seat invoking the presence of travelers.
Videowatercolors overicht

Moving IV, 2002

Moving II of 2002 consists of three parts of which the bottom two are recognizably of undulating water. The top layer, however, appears strange, as though our view over the water is interrupted by rocks or an iceberg— until we tilt our head to the side and recognize that our sight is conditioned.
Videowatercolors overicht

Moving II, 2002

Skyscape (Blue Horizon) of 2003 looks like a landscape but in reality consists of two Videograbs from a long shot taken with the lens of the video camera held still against an airplane window. Dark clouds announce themselves in the top image and form, a little while later, a thick blanket of clouds below. In reality we are looking at different manifestations of H2O, including the ice crystals that have formed on the window, which engage in a kind of digital dance with the pixels of the flowing image that Balth presents.
Videowatercolors overicht

Skyscape (Blue Horizon), 2003

by Douglas Heingartner, 2007

by Douglas Heingartner

The pictures that the Hubble telescope and Voyager spacecrafts send back to Earth remind us of the rich layers of visual surprise that abound in nature. Or at least they mean to, even though they've been manipulated for the human eye: the otherwise invisible wavelengths of infrared and ultraviolet, for example, are tinted blue or green so we can see them. In fact, if we were to travel to any of the distant galaxies that technology brings to our doorstep, we would actually see little more than black space with perhaps a few stars. As lucid as our perception of the world may sometimes seem, it is actually quite limited.
So we use tricks or tools to make these worlds come alive: special microphones that let us hear elephants' subsonic conversations, or time-lapse photography that shows us the trajectory of a bullet piercing an apple, or the secret world of starfish, whose slow-motion society turns out to be full of dynamic intrigues. To reject these techniques out of a misguided sense of aesthetic purity would not only be unfortunate, but regressive.
In his Videowatercolors series, the conclusion of a ten-year investigation into new ways of seeing, Carel Balth draws attention to the constructedness of so much of what we see, and so much of what we believe to be natural – not in order to expose scientific manipulations but rather to materialize ideas, for example how fixed our ways of seeing have become, and how readily we take for granted the wonders of optical perception.
Balth has always used a wide array of tools to get to the core of human perception, ranging from the highest forms of technology to the simplest of gestures, like turning an image upside down. The moment you notice this you understand, but it takes time to break out of conditioned viewing patterns before our brains relax and allow us to see everyday sights through new eyes. Being presented with an initially indistinct set of images the viewer is compelled to create his own definition of what the overall image actually means.
Despite making ample use of the latest image software and printing techniques, Balth's main tool in the Videowatercolors is an ordinary digital camcorder, a deliberately far cry from the high-definition models now routinely used by today's leading filmmakers: instead of pursuing ever-greater clarity and ever-more megapixels, the Videowatercolors gladly display their pixilated pointillism. By highlighting the blocky digital artifacts that graphic designers try so hard to conceal, the Videowatercolors, at once figurative and abstract, are placed firmly in the early 21st century, much in the way that daguerreotypes are now shorthand for the 19th Regardless of the employed technique, Balth still relies on the bedrock of motion, space and light to fuse disparate elements into a new kind of collage, which in turn engenders new meanings.
The idea of the photograph no longer representing reality has gradually become something of a truism; we now all understand that the camera functions as both object and subject, at once registering and creating the pictures we see. Likewise, the pixels of the Videowatercolors remind us of photographic reality's inescapable disingenuity. And printing the videograbs on heavy watercolor paper or canvas imbues them with a quality that's at once painterly and photographic, without being either. Balth hereby calls into question, however fleetingly, the seemingly inexorable march of the digital – more definition, more resolution, more colors – by relocating these technologically generated images to an older and perhaps less fractured age.
Moreover, as if to underlie their rich content of meaning, the videograbs themselves, though technically motionless as they hang on a wall, are anything but static: implicit motion in the frame comes from the jitter of the handheld camera, its moving parts and tiny sensors, from the faces of the portrayed, from the recurring waves and the molecules of water that compose them, or from the sun's reflection of those waves. Each of the frames that Balth records contains an infinite set of possible outcomes, with countless layers of motion and interconnectedness.
Over the years, Balth has consistently used unconventional means and materials – from vinyl to Plexiglas to deliberately pixilated images – all of which help his work speak to the complexity of something as ostensibly simple as looking at a picture. Yet his use of simple tools is not a misguided pining for the good old day à la the photographer who uses vintage cameras to make his images seems old; instead, the deliberate use of imperfect techniques underscores that what we see is not always what we get. Perhaps accurately portraying today's world requires a broader battery of tools than brush and camera alone, and to attempt such a recording armed only with ever-more-accurate gadgets is ultimately a fool's errand. With the overwhelming surfeit of images around us, finely combing through a sea of images as Balth does, and then picking those that best highlight the often imperceptible interstices between every moment, reveals how everything around us is in constant flux: even if we don't detect it, it's still happening, from the crystallization of tiny drops of water on an airplane's windows to the movements of distant galaxies.
These micro images speak to the interchangeability of both locales as well as techniques. Instead of referencing distinct schools of visual representation, today artists everywhere use the same tools. This lends many of Balth’s individual images a certain placelessness; the construction sites we see in Future could be located anywhere, as could the night-lit towers of Corporate. The Videowatercolors all reference the slippery nature of reality, and in fact abstract reality by mixing “real” light with manmade light, “real” water with manmade pools. Although the works remain more conceptual than rigidly formal, they nonetheless make use of formal and compositional language to get their point across: to provide new ways of interpreting familiar themes.

Early Works

Active since the late 1960s, Carel Balth has built an oeuvre over four decades. He started with abstract plexiglass light objects, followed by introducing within the same concept a pure photographic reality.
Ten years later he put the idea of Collage in a different perspective. Then Balth went through different stages of exploration by the Laser Paintings and the Vinyls. Each of his groups of work captures light and time, space and movement in a different, innovative way.

Light Objects                              1969 - 1975

All Light Objects consist of crystal-clear Plexiglas and take light as their medium. Balth thus sought to concretize light as clearly as possible, and to allow light and matter to flow into each other, thereby involving the viewer in the process of separating the two. The first works in the series often have shiny metal bands set into the Plexiglas, which reflect the light in poetically suggestive ways. Later works, such as the rods (long, hanging bars, which are able to turn slowly), actively play with light through the subtle movement in the refractions of the light. Some of the works also have color, which is not always directly visible as paint, resulting in a mysterious, radiant effect around the object. The largest group consists of simple rectangles that, by way of cuts into the material, project a light- and shadow line on the wall. They retain a remarkable luminosity, especially under lower light conditions, thereby apparently enhancing the light lines, which causes marvel at such a simple given.

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Light Photoworks                              1976 - 1978

In the Light Photo Works Balth uses photography to reflect on the nature of 'reality' in the perception of natural and artificial light.

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The New Collages                              1979 - 1982

Balth plays on the idea of reflection — the photograph reflecting earlier reality, while the collaged foil literally reflects light here and now. The viewer, in turn, reflects on the real-scale juxtaposition. Balth revived collage to include the medium of photography. He used commonplace motifs and emphasized materiality by maximizing contrasts and similarities: the light raking across the walls, the shadow cast by the foil, its curvature in real space, and the curves resulting from the cutting out of shapes. These elements reveal what is real and what is only represented, while putting the idea of collage itself into question.

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Suite I+II                              1977 - 1991

Balth arrived at these images by projecting a razor-sharp rectangle of white light into the darkness of night. The at times capricious, at times solid shapes that resulted represent an attempt to address reality by means of artificial light in a rather abstract manner, by concretizing, rather than simulating. In discussions of photography, from C. S. Pierce, via Roland Barthes and Rosalind Krauss, the question of indexicality has been key, an ontological question, which lends to photography a reality effect because the print is an (indexical) trace of light captured on the sensitive plate. Due to the laminate on these photos, rich contrasts have been well preserved — the night is truly black, attaining a sort of materiality that contrasts with the lighter parts, which sometimes appear sculptural, sometimes take the form of a hesitatingly searching line.

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Polaroid Paintings                              1982 - 1986

The Polaroid Paintings is a group of works created by blown up images of Polaroid pictures manipulated during their developing process. In the short time that is needed for a Polaroid film to develop instantly, Balth applied pressure to the film and the chemical emulsions inside the film, influencing the image. The result is a mixture of reality with an additional layer of imagery, suggesting to be a registration of intangible things such as memory or feelings. After this manipulation, Balth enlarged the picture to a monumental size, sometimes leaving the typical Polaroid border around the image.

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Laser Paintings                              1986 - 1996

The Laser Paintings derive their name from a process Balth developed in the mid 1980s. He scanned an image with a laser scanner, which he then manipulated and printed enlarged on canvas. Because the canvas ran untreated and unprimed through the large inkjet plotter, the pigments in this dot-shooting process were not sprayed onto but into the canvas, resulting in beautiful sfumato color effects. In the series which Balth in playful homage to Proust called A la recherche, we find images that are at first sight difficult to place, because the motif — the brushstroke of Monet from his Nymphéas series of waterlillies — was already blown up 2,500 times on the scanned photograph. Moreover, Balth had wrinkled the paper of the photograph, so that the image enhances the sense of something that flows. The references to Monet’s brushstroke, the capturing of the light of the moment, the sfumato of flowing color, and the disorienting effect which Leo Steinberg also noted in Monet’s Nymphéas all again conjure up an image of a water landscape of sorts.

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The Vinyls                              1997 - 1999

These works are driven by a search for the deeper qualities of light and reflection, yet their pliable surface and often contemplative moods invoke a Proustian search for lost time.

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