Mike Ballard: Stations of the Elevated
Arch 402 Gallery, London
March 23 - April 13, 2012
Long time East-London artist Mike Ballard's latest offering lifts title and inspiration from Manfred Kircheimer's 1979 film Stations of the Elevated. Hard to come by but a lasting influence on Ballard's work, Stations of the Elevated (the Kircheimer film) exposes viewers to the burgeoning graffiti scene of late 70s New York. With a jazz soundtrack by Charles Mingus suggesting there's more to graffiti than merely being acts of vandalism, the impressionistic documentary approaches graffiti as public art aimed to provoke and communicate with everyday commuters travelling the subways and elevated tracks of the New York Metro.
Stations of the Elevated (the Ballard exhibition) is a stark assemblage of complex, backlit collages, paintings and prints. Photos of jazz heroes like Sun Ra and John Coltrane appear within the colleges seemingly as hat tips to Kicheimer and as direct homage in and of themselves. Government buildings and mid century apartment complexes are rearranged and reconstructed with brutal symmetry to have “pyramidal machines with mysterious functions” applied as newly augmented features. Sort of like frozen explosions or odd cultural blooms, the works (especially the collages) distort scale and mess with depth to “destabilise our sense of place.”
The effect is at once very street, retro yet futuristic, a little bit frightening and incredibly mesmerizing. Ballard puts it more plainly: "… [It's] a lot of new collage work, multilayered architectural stuff, aftermath type, fantasy urban utopias presented as large light boxes and also some big super 8 film paintings as well as smaller work."
Adding to such distinct ambience is the show's setting. Located in a “sensitively converted 2,700 square foot railway arch situated next to the new Hoxton overground station,” Arch 402 gallery provides an almost ideal space for considering the artist's intentions and motives. The chu-chunk-uh-chunk of trains bounding overhead, stooping through portals to pass through the gallery's two main rooms and its walled back garden...these complement Ballard's “constructed environments” with a gritty backdrop for contemplating a mature and trippy exhibition.