“There was something factitious and brittle and thereby utterly feminine about her charm which made me want to crush her, even to crunch her. She had a slight cast in one eye which gives her gaze a strange concentrated intensity. Her eyes sparkle, almost as if they were actually emitting sparks. She is electric. And she could run faster in very high-heeled shoes than any girl I ever met.”
These words, written by Iris Murdoch in her seminal novel The Sea, The Sea (1978) fit perfectly with the feeling on first encountering Olga Balema’s works, currently on display at High Art Gallery in Paris.
Such a literary description seems natural for Olga Balema (b. 1984 Ukraine, lives and works in Amsterdam and Berlin), given her own selection of a very literary title for her first solo show in Paris. By naming her exhibition Her Curves she adds an additional layer of feminine mystique to her abstract works. The exhibition consists of two series of sculptures: placed on the floor, against the wall or ceiling, some made from cut metal sheet, bent and painted, and the others from bent rods stretched with foam and painted with latex. Often her works relate to the body, with their human size scale. Thus, the bodily presence is not a parameter for scale, but a conceptual frame.
Her glossy, curved sculpture sparkles from afar and can be noticed through the gallery’s vitrine. Some of the works are painted in high-shine, colorful paints such as pastel green, grayish lilac, turquoise, wine red, and yellow. This party of color is much more confusing when you get closer. First of all, while some of the works strike you immediately, other are hidden in different corners of the gallery, despite the fact it is quite a small space.
Each of Balema’s "semi-abstract" (as the artist refers to her own work) sculptures have an evasive identity and with each look, they seem different. While some seem to be deformed pieces of furniture, others resemble pieces of clothing, suited for the human body. Because of their materiality and physical qualities, they almost appear as a modern alternative to armor, all '80s disco ball with their color and scintillation.
One work, made of two pastel green sheets, hangs on two sides of a metal frame, seen in the left rear corner of the gallery. Its shape gives an illusion of movement, resembling two flags fluttering. The turquoise blue piece on its right, with its long, smooth and curved shape, conjures a silky haute couture dress. When stepping out, looking in again through the vitrine, the whole exhibition looked like a leftover of a party, with big wine stain inexplicably left on the ceiling.
—Ellie Armon Azoulay
(All images: Olga Balema; Courtesy of the artist and High Art)