Oasis (C.D.F.) is an installation composed of thirteen wooden parts, one of which is lined with a small metal tray in which sits an electric water pump. Two long, parallel boards are mounted vertically onto the wall, at the top of which a further two lines made of three planks meet in an apex at the center. This frame defines the boundaries of the installation and its resemblance to a house-like structure designates the arrangement as a domestic space. A floral metal decoration is fixed to the lower part of the left parallel plank, and is echoed by a second flowery motif that is drawn on to the corresponding surface of the right plank. Mounted on the wall slightly above eye level within the frame of the house-like arrangement is a wooden container lined with metal and filled with leaves, above which sits an elliptical crescent made from wood. An old-fashioned drainpipe extends down to the floor from the leaf-filled container and ends in a small metal trough. Adjacent to the metal trough is a wooden box that has been partially filled with pine needles, which has elliptical crescents at its head and foot, constituting a form that is suggestive of a bed or cradle. A segment of wooden doorsill is positioned on the floor parallel to the house-like frame, approximately four-and-a-half meters from the wall, denoting the threshold of the structure.
This work was made in 1989 by the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka at his studio and childhood home in Otwock, Poland, and the wooden planks used to make it were taken from around this property (see Van Abbemuseum 1993, p.64). Balka reconstituted the wall-mounted box from another work known as River 1988 (reproduced in Van Abbemuseum 1993, p.65), which comprised a sculpted figure of a swimming man inside a specially built wooden coffin-type structure. The artist reconfigured the coffin for Oasis (C.D.F.), cutting the container in half and lining it with a tin-plated tray, and painting the top black and filling it with leaves. The pine needles used in the work were salvaged from a tree that grew outside of the artist’s bedroom window at the property in Otwock. The fastening materials, including the nails and screws which hold the piece together, were also sourced from Balka’s family home. Although no longer functional, a wire leading from the floor to the trough supplies a pump which once released a small stream of diluted milk. The liquid ran down the gutter to accumulate in the tray, and the residue of this is still visible, as is the corrosion caused by prolonged installation. There are inscriptions on the back of several of the wooden pieces, giving the artist’s name, the title of the work and information on the positioning of the wooden elements for display.
The work was originally fabricated for a group exhibition of Polish and German artists entitled Dialog that was held at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, Germany, from September to October 1989. The bracketed letters in the work’s title correspond to the initials of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), known for his allegorical landscapes and interest in spiritualism, to whom Balka has dedicated the installation.
In 1999 Balka stated that Oasis (C.D.F.) is the first sculpture he produced that does not include a figurative representation of the body (see Balka in Tate Gallery Cataloguing Form, 12 November 1999, p.3, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Miroslaw Balka, A19309). Since the early 1990s Balka’s sculptures have been non-figurative, comprised of unadorned materials and simple forms, often incorporating personally significant items. In a 1993 interview the artist stated that his move to non-figurative installation was part of his attempt to achieve greater allusiveness in his work:
In my earlier works I employed the body in the very literal way … After some time I satisfied my hunger for the form of the human body. I took interest in the forms that accompany the body and in the traces the body leaves: a bed, a coffin, a funeral urn.
(Balka in Van Abbemuseum 1993, p.64.)
Balka is best known for the austere formalism of his work in which he combines minimal and seemingly neutral forms with highly evocative raw materials, including found items (see, for instance, [diameter]7,5 x 159 x 16,5 - 195 x 47 x 90 - [diameter]6 x 18 cm 1991, Tate T07444). The materials in Oasis (C.D.F.) retain physical indicators of human activity, with the residue of their previous use – traces of plaster, cement and paint – still visible on the surface of the wood.
Possible Worlds: Sculpture from Europe, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and Serpentine Gallery, London 1990.
Miroslaw Balka, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1993.
Helen Sainsbury (ed.), Miroslaw Balka: How It Is, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2009.
Supported by Christie’s.