Miroslaw Balka: Random Access Memory review
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On first impression, it might look like Polish conceptual art behemoth Miroslaw Balka has made a couple of massive radiators. And on second impression too. And third. That’s because he sort of has.
Both spaces of White Cube’s central London gallery have been sliced in two by enormous sheets of heated corrugated iron. You can’t walk around them or see over the one-metre gaps at the top. You’re penned in. Or maybe being kept out.
Balka’s radiators are border walls and prison fences. They’re symbols of every kind of physical barrier you can think of. They force narratives out of you. Dwarfed by them, you become a prisoner of conscience, or an immigrant at the US border. There are millions of stories here, millions of chunks of history rippling out like waves of heat.
At first, the temperature is a little underwhelming. The fencing is heated to 45C, the temperature at which human blood coagulates. Coming in from the brittle cold of London’s winter, it’s actually quite nice, and not half as hot as the heating in my flat. But eventually you start to feel uncomfortable, the sweat starts trickling. You reach out and touch the work and it’s too hot, sticky, unreal, nasty. You realise you’re being attacked both physically and environmentally.
That’s Balka’s greatest trick: turning something as simple as a sheet of corrugated iron into a tool of oppression and a trigger of memory and trauma. The longer you’re around it, the more it affects you, and the more you want to leave. It’s the only thing in town that might actually make you appreciate the cold this winter.