Michael Ballou

My practice varies from project-to-project, and is sometimes collaboration-based and at other times the result of my personal art making practices in diverse media, including site-specific installations, sculptures, performances, works on paper, films and audio pieces. My work has been exhibited at galleries in New York and elsewhere, including David Zwirner Gallery, Postmasters, Ronald Feldman Gallery, Xavier Hufkens (Brussels), Studio 10, and Pierogi 2000. In 1999 and 2000, a grant from Phillip Morris Foundation in conjunction with the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin allowed me to live and create work in Berlin. I had a major exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 2013, as part of its Raw/ Cooked series. It featured multi-media installations in several parts of the museum, and a film program. In addition, I have done many projects abroad, including shows/installations/projects in Germany, Scandinavia and Ramallah.

1990 till 2000, I hosted and co-directed the Four Walls art space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a project space whose function was something between a clubhouse and laboratory. It was a place where exhibitions, panel discussions, performances and projects took place, creating a nexus of cultural exchange for artists. In 1989, I received a National Endowment for the Arts grant which became seed money for the Four Walls project. My intent was to create a condition for the exchange of ideas.

From1993 to 2011, I directed, curated and organized The Slide and Film Club. I invited artists—and non-artists— to show Super8 films , 35mm slideshows and videos. A house band played improvised music to programs that lacked soundtracks, should someone request it. The project brought together hundreds of visual artists, writers and musicians such as Brian Dewan, Christian Marclay, Joy Garnett, Jim Torok and Carla Pearlman among others. It fostered the work of many artists, as well as my own Super 8 film work.

My studio practice over the past five years has primarily been object based. I have often relied on processes based on coincidence, or cues that I receive from my life in order to generate works which perform a useful function, or at least an approximation of one. For example, “Weathervane” at Pierogi Gallery in 1997, fulfilled its metrological role, as well as a quasi-metaphorical one: it took the form of an abstracted Pinocchio head. “Moo-Moo” (2010), was a giant, sculptural cow head on the roof of the Brooklyn restaurant, Diner. It was a portrait of one of the locally-sourced animals being served. “Billboard” in Hudson, New York played with the nature of what billboards are, using them to present subtly disorienting landscape images in unlikely places.

Since March of 2020, the world, and certainly my world, has been circumscribed by COVID, making it more difficult to present art in the usual ways. One piece I did in early 2021 was a guerrilla installation in a local park. In the tangle of branches of bushes and trees near the entrance of Cooper Park, one might find two blue rope-like sculptural forms weaving around the forms of the trees. Those pieces are called “Jay” and “Pea” and, in addition to bringing visual play to the local park, they commemorate my friend, the artist Joyce Pensato, who passed away the year before. It was the park she used to frequent with her dog.

Another recent project had a commemorative aspect, this year’s “Word of Bird is Cured” shown at Studio 10, Bushwick. My friend, the artist and writer Matt Friedman had passed away after a long illness. My piece covered the windows of the gallery with blue paper, with thousands of silhouettes of birds cut into the paper by hand. The gallery faced west, and as days grew long, projections of the birds flooded the room. In the room I created a series of cellophane bags, based on the forms of boulders.

The bags were inflated by fans from below, precariously erect and quick to wither when the fans were turned off. The inner surface of the bags were covered with inscriptions taken from one of Matt Friedman’s surreal, philosophical comic strips, and viewers would have to peer into hulking but ephemeral forms to read them.

The word of bird is cured
a pound of sound is round
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