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Davide Balula, the portals of perception

Organic matter, technology and music: the French artist transcends boundaries to take the pulse of the human condition and surpass the limits of art.

He is a demiurge of space that he compresses, stretches and spreads depending on his acoustic installations and connected creations. He is a sculptor of the indescribable when he throws through a clear window the dust that has accumulated and been swept up by a venue’s cleaning crews during an exhibition. David Balula does not seek to master his environment but reveals its impalpable truth. The way he grasps matter is empirical, playful. His relationship with time – the essence of his work – brings to mind that of minimal music pioneer Steve Reich. An alchemist and seismograph, Davide Balula buries new canvases or plunges them in river water until the earth and sediment leave their marks. He burns them before reproducing the stigmata on other frames. His art draws from prestidigitation and shamanism. This French artist, born in 1978 in Annecy, can also be quite mischievous, as when he joined forces with pastry chef Daniel Burns to create ice cream in flavors such as Burnt Wood, Smoke, River or Dirt. At the crossroads between poetry and science, the work of Davide Balula, whether on a micro or macro level, questions the human condition and submerges the viewer to the point of vertigo. Here’s what he has to say.

How do you feed your artistic inspiration on a daily basis?
I start with a balanced breakfast, usually with a screen in my hand. Most of the time, I’m reading up on bioengineering. I have a light lunch at noon and go out for walks. Then a caffeine-free break in the afternoon. Dinner with friends.

Is there a material, medium or element you have yet to experiment with that interests you enough to research it?
Baker’s yeast, silicone outside of mines, mineral water, radium, graphene, liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide.

Do you converse with the materials and elements you use?
I regularly send them messages, but they go unanswered.

Is there a musician who has a similar approach to yours?
I think my work is very musical. There are a lot of musicians… Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, Aperghis, Xenakis, Giannis Hasiklis, Lee Ranaldo, Luc Ferrari...

Do you have any kind of relationship with the work of John Cage or Steve Reich?
Steve Reich doesn’t live too far from me, just down the street, but I’ve never seen him. I wonder if that’s part of feeling so close to him. John Cage is no longer here, but I still feel close to him. Cage is fascinating: the ultimate rigor when his pieces are interpreted, pieces that represent detachment, randomness and simplicity only in appearance.

Is your work a matter of poetic synesthesia?
Absolutely everything is a matter of poetic synesthesia. You just have to speak out loud with one hand over your throat to see for yourself.

Is it also a way to reveal the unbearable lightness of being, especially with regards to time?
Time is always in front of us but we’re usually only aware of what’s behind us. That’s probably for the best because what’s behind us is what holds us up. Its shape is fascinating, sexy and comfortable. 

Are you a sceptic?
It’s difficult to prove a world that exists outside of our senses. But I do like logic, rivers (the riverbed) and language. It’s hard to say if that makes me a sceptic, but certainly a pragmatic.

What will your upcoming work deal with?
At the moment, when I’m not burning wood or going fishing, I’m working on a project that can be held in the hand and is inspired from mime. Mime as in theatre, I mean. This continues on from my previous projects on pickpockets, lock picking and how to open doors with sculptures. I’m also still thinking about the future of water. I always try to have water on me, I wear it like a piece of jewelry.

What is the best thing that could happen to your art?
That it circulates without needing to be packaged or stamped. That it can be whistled by a taxi driver and cyclist at the same time. That it walks in the street without a leash but leaving a scent behind it. That it alternates between being transparent, opaque or reflective. That it doesn’t have to worry about the weather tomorrow.

Davide Balula is represented by the Frank Elbaz gallery, 66 rue de Turenne, Paris 75003.

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