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The Museum as Marketing Temple - Mike Bouchet & Paul McCarthy at the Portikus, Frankfurt
Walk the Line - A visual journey at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Washed Geometry: Rebecca Michaelis's Undogmatic Color Field Painting
Shared Visions - The Rise of the Johannesburg Art Scene
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
The Question: Who or What Should We Keep an Eye on in 2014?
"I want my art to put people on edge" - An Interview with Clare Bottomley
No Escape - Idan Hayosh´s Suggestive Threat Scenarios
Let´s talk: Ingrid Pfeiffer & Bernhard Martin on Philip Guston
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Longing: The Photographic Works of Nicolas Balcazar
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners: Sonja Rentsch´s Imagination Space for the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


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MACHT KUNST – The Prizewinners
Longing: The Photographic Works of Nicolas Balcazar

Whether he takes his photographs in the streets of his native city Berlin, in Kuala Lumpur, or a brown coal mining region in the Niederlausitz—Nicolas Balcazar uses double exposure and reflection to infuse his images with a poetic dimension. In the end, his work also convinced the jury of MACHT KUNST. Now, the young photographer introduces his recent work in the Studio of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera.” This statement by Lewis W. Hine can be found on the last page of a small catalogue containing Nicolas Balcazar’s most important images from the past two years. In the early 20th century, Hine documented child labor in American factories. Balcazar, the young Berliner, reveres the great pioneer of socio-critical photography. Despite this, however, Balcazar does not see the camera as a tool for exposing social injustice—even though his show of photographs in the Studio of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle testifies to how brown coal mining is destroying entire landscapes. Like Hines, Balcazar also believes that he can better express what occupies him with images than with words. He is less interested in stories, however, than in moods and feelings.

Sehnsucht (Longing) is the title of Balcazar’s catalogue. “You feel something deep inside, but you can’t express it or conjure it up again. Longing is elusive, and that is exactly what my images convey.” The son of a Peruvian father and a German mother goes on to explain that this longing is connected to people such as his deceased father, whom he has dedicated his catalogue to. Or to places where Balcazar has lived or traveled. “Because I travel so much, I sometimes don’t know where I would most like to be. Longing—for me, that’s the perfect word for these moments, when I’d rather be somewhere else or when I miss a person or a place.”

His photographs have been taken all over the world—for instance in Lima, the city he grew up in, and in Berlin, where he was born and returned to in 2004. This is where he studied bioinformatics, and where, following his master’s degree, he worked on the decoding of genes at the Robert Koch Institute, among other places. Or in Shanghai, where he completed a one-year internship, as well as numerous European and Asian cities he got to know during his travels: Priština, Lyon, Lisbon, Kuala Lumpur. For him, travel is as natural as taking the subway, says Balcazar. Once you experience the youthful panache of the 28-year-old, you immediately see that a statement of this kind has nothing to do with attitude. His photographs show what he encounters along his journeys, not as something foreign or exotic, but as documents and random impressions of landscapes, streets, and architecture.  

Balcazar is a self-taught photographer. At the age of twenty he returned to Germany from Peru and bought himself a small digital camera for the occasion. “I was really just interested in recording what happened to me—and sharing it with my family in Peru.” Eventually, a true passion grew out of this. Parallel to his studies, he began exploring the possibilities of photography, continuously upgrading his equipment—a classic case of learning by doing. At first, he paid little attention to the history of the medium: “I didn’t want to investigate other photographers, because I was afraid I would be far too influenced by them before I had a chance to develop my own style.” He finally attended a photography program in 2012 because he felt he’d reached his own limits and wanted some professional feedback to his work.

He hit upon one of his favorite stylistic methods entirely by accident. “In the menu of my camera, I discovered “double exposure” and tried it out and thought it was an exciting effect.” Since then, he has gone on to perfect his work with this tool. Whether Balcazar floats a huge hand over a street or merges a portrait of a young woman with a photograph of a forest—the double exposures lend his pictures an unreal, somewhat melancholy atmosphere.  

The work awarded by the MACHT KUNST jury is also a double exposure, combining his preferred themes of people and architecture. He was walking through the Hafencity in Hamburg with a friend and photographed him against the light. The young man in a baseball cap appears in silhouette before a blazing white sky. Balcazar then combined this motif with a picture of a building’s façade. Although it wasn’t made with this intention, the image immediately calls to mind the lives of youths in the towering residential projects of urban peripheries—and how architecture leaves its mark on the lives of its inhabitants.

In his exhibition 15.000 t in the Studio of Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Balcazar uses another technique to distort his images. A large-scale work hangs on the front wall of the space: a gigantic technoid object hovers at the edge of a slag pit. The sheer size of this aggressive science fiction machine shrinks a lonely human figure to the size of an insect. But it’s pure fiction one sees here: Balcazar mirrored an image of a shovel dredger, a trick that makes the steel giant appear to float, while at the same time the resulting symmetry underscores the machine’s aesthetic effect.

The ambivalence of Balcazar’s recent photographs of the brown coal mines in South Welzow in the Niederlausitz is what makes them interesting. He shows the destruction of the landscape, but most of all he expresses his fascination for the steel constructions in use here, for instance the 15,000-ton F60 that lends this show its title. This machine—the largest movable machine worldwide—is both a technological marvel and a monstrosity. This is also present in the titles of the works: Sahaquiel and Gaghiel are the names of the destructive angels in the Japanese TV Anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which Balcazar loved to watch in Peru.

Balcazar sees the award and the exhibition connected to it as a confirmation that photography is far more for him than just the refined hobby of an aspiring scientist. And so he expands his horizons in both areas: as a bioinformatician he is planning his doctorate, and as a traveling photographer he already has his next destination in view—a stretch of coast in Bangladesh where wrecked ocean-liners are dissembled by hand into their individual components.
Achim Drucks

Nicolas Balcazar – 15.000 t
January 10 – January 26, 2014
Studio of the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin

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