Conceived specifically for the Phillips, Sk(in) is a two-part installation occupying the Hunter Courtyard and adjacent gallery space, thereby playing off the artist’s idea of inside-out, outer and inner, and visible and invisible. The massive exterior sculpture is made of steel but not as a solid volume; its delicately crafted surface comprised of numerous steel parts welded together is suggestive of tree branches. However, at second look, the intertwined, organic shapes become anthropomorphized, resembling a human heart or brain with knotted blood vessels and nerves.
In contrast to the hollow free-standing sculpture in the courtyard, the interior installation engages the surface of the walls connecting the museum’s Goh Annex to the Sant Building. Both, outdoor and indoor works are cast from life: the former from a fallen tree and the latter consisting of three interrelated pieces—from a tree trunk (Wound), a wall (Untitled), and the artist’s body (Hidden Sight). In Wound, a wall is cut and left open, alluding to cut off trees that are revived through a natural cycle of decay and growth. In Hidden Sight, the artist’s hand reaches out from the wall in an effort to grasp the seemingly ungraspable, while in Untitled the wall’s “skin” is pinched by nails tracing the places where artwork use to hang. Although separate, these three works speak to the connectedness between concave and recessed space, push and pull, presence and absence.
“It shows where the tree ends, but also where the inside begins. I aimed to create a sculpture where you see the “in” as well as the “out” by providing just the skin – where the outside and the inside co-exist and are visible together.”
Throughout his career, Bala has engaged with those forces we normally think of as peripheral – light, shadow, gravity – forces that nevertheless give form to our experience. Foregrounding the perceptual in his work, which often surprises or confounds, Bala playfully challenges viewers to question and ultimately expand the limits of their perception. Always more than meets the eye, each of his pieces is, as he says, “the trace of a thought,” evidence of the indelible marriage between form and idea. Bala’s work gives new weight to the tangible – weight at once symbolic, spiritual, and distinctly human. Alwar Balasubramaniam was born in 1971 in Tamil Nadu, India. His works have been featured in international exhibitions and institutions including The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India; Essl Museum, Austria; École des Beaux Arts, Paris, France; 1st Singapore Biennale; and 18th Sydney Biennale. Bala has been a guest lecturer at the Art Department of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and a featured speaker at TED.