Press Release

Miroslaw Balka to undertake next commission in The Unilever Series

Miroslaw Balka to undertake next commission in The Unilever Series: Press related to past news.

Tate and Unilever today announced that the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka will undertake the tenth commission in The Unilever Series for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (13 October 2009 – 5 April 2010).

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1958, Balka lives and works in Warsaw and Otwock. This will be the artist’s first public commission in the UK, which will be unveiled on Monday 12 October 2009. Miroslaw Balka is one of the most significant contemporary artists of his generation. His work has had critical acclaim both in this country and internationally. Comprising installation, sculpture and video, Balka’s works explore themes of personal history and common experience drawing on his Catholic upbringing and the fractured history of his native country, Poland. Intimate and self-reflective, his works demonstrate his central concerns of identifying personal memory within the context of historical memory.

In works such as Oasis (C.D.F.) (1989), he suggests a domestic setting in which the daily rituals of human existence are played out. Eating and sleeping, love and death are evoked using materials which have a particular resonance for Balka such as milk, wooden planks from his childhood home and pine needles salvaged from the tree that grew outside his window.  In this work dedicated to the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, Balka invokes both the spiritual and the everyday.

Central to Balka’s work is the use of materials of humble quality such as ash, felt, soap, salt and hair to give a sense of spirituality through their association with lives lived and memories left behind. Salt, for example, alludes to human emotions in the form of sweat or tears, whilst soap evokes the intimate yet universal daily rituals of cleansing as explored in Hanging Soap Women (2000), in which used bars of soap donated by women are strung together on a wire. In the installation, 190 x 90 x 4973 (2008), Balka constructs a wooden walkway with walls measuring 190cm high (the artist’s height) without any ceiling and made from simple common building materials such as plywood, creating a claustrophobic tunnel with no visible destination.

Memorials play an important role in Polish society but also in Balka’s personal experience – his grandfather was a monumental stonemason and his father an engraver of tombstones. His early performances and sculpture referred to his experience of the rituals of Catholicism, perhaps made more intense in a country where religion was repressed.  In recent years he has focussed on the Holocaust, which for Balka is a permanent scar on collective memory, with particular resonance in his home towns of Otwock and Warsaw.  Despite the austerity of form and seriousness of his subject matter, Balka’s work is often imbued with warmth reflecting his view that “After seeing the sadness inscribed in the works maybe some spectators can see that joy can also be found in those moments of life that one lives to the full.”

Miroslaw Balka represented Poland at the 45th Venice Biennale 1993, and has exhibited in major group exhibitions including Venice Biennale (2005), Site Santa Fe and the Sydney Biennale (both 2006). His recent solo exhibitions include Tristes Tropiques at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Lichtzwang at K21, Düsseldorf, Cruzamento at Museo de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Reflejos condicionados at Fundacion Botin, Santander (all in 2007), Entering Paradise + BGE at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Jetzt at WRO Art Centre, Wroclaw, Poland and Nothere at White Cube, London.

The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka is curated by Helen Sainsbury, Curator, Tate Modern, assisted by Maeve Polkinhorn,Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

Vicente Todolí, Director, Tate Modern said:

Tate is delighted to announce that Miroslaw Balka has accepted the tenth commission in The Unilever Series. As one of the most significant contemporary artists of his generation, he has been described as a “master poet”. We look forward to seeing what he will create for the unique space at Tate Modern in October.

Gavin Neath, Unilever, SVP Communications said:

Unilever is delighted that Miroslaw Balka  will undertake the challenge of creating the tenth installation in The Unilever Series.  We look forward to seeing Balka’s first public commission, which will no doubt be an original approach to filling the vast Turbine Hall. Unilever’s sponsorship of Tate Modern is one of the most successful and widely recognised arts sponsorships in the UK.  It reflects not only Unilever’s commitment to the arts, but to creativity and innovation.  Since The Unilever Series began in 2000, over 20 million people have  come to view the nine installationsand our  decision to renew the commitment until 2012 will see millions more  who will be inspired  in the years to come.

Editor notes

The Unilever Series of annual commissions was launched in 2000 when Tate Modern opened with Louise Bourgeois’s I Do, I Undo, I Redo. The Spanish artist Juan Muñoz was the second artist commissioned in 2001 with Double Bind, and the first British artist to be commissioned was Anish Kapoor with Marsyas in 2002. Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project illuminated the Turbine Hall in 2003 and Bruce Nauman’s mesmerising sound installation, Raw Materials, opened in October 2004. In 2005 Rachel Whiteread created her installation EMBANKMENT, and this was followed by Carsten Höller’s interactive spiralling slides, Test Site, which allowed visitors to travel through the vast space. In 2007 Doris Salcedo created a subterranean sculpture that ran the length of the building, dramatically breaking open the floor of the Turbine Hall for Shibboleth. In TH.2058 in 2008, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster looked 50 years into the future transforming the Turbine Hall into a shelter filled with bunk beds and gargantuan sculptures.

Unilever’s sponsorship of The Unilever Series at Tate Modern began in 2000 and has been extended until 2012.  The Unilever Series has inspired over 20 million visitors to Tate Modern and in the eight years of the associated children’s art project – the Unilever International Schools Art Project (UISAP) – an estimated 135,000 children have benefited from a first class education resource in schools throughout the world. 2009 will see the end of UISAP in its current format and the launch of a new online art education project – The Unilever Series: turbinegeneration.