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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 exicutes his works on archival silk baryte, encausted in a specially matted epoxy, which provides a newly found clarity and deep 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 Balth has touched. Light and Perception, perhaps his main tools, are omnipresent.

More Videowatercolors in recent PDF
Roundtrip-II Roundtrip-III
Videowatercolors: the Perception of Meaning
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.

The Edge of Vision

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

Early Works

Active since the late 1960s, Carel Balth has built an oeuvre over four decades. Starting with Plexiglas objects, moving through photographic works, the collage put in a different perspective, and developing new techniques such as the Laser Paintings, Balth went through different stages of exploration. Each of his groups of work captures light and time, space and movement in a different, innovative way.

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