Dennis Balk: The Civilians and the Military

24 March - 4 May 2012

Dennis Balk is a New York artist currently based in Bangkok.  For this exhibition, Balk presents a collision of populist images that exhude an aura of exhausted political idealism. Comprising signs, lightboxes, and other tropes from the public arena, the exhibition invites viewers to reflect upon our oversaturated visual environments, to speculate on the appropriate settings for the individual works, and to consider how meanings can  drift, change or vanish, depending on context. The works have been produced in collaboration with various local tradespeople of Mumbai.

In the words of the artist, “in this exhibition, I've tried to create a situation where significant components of our shared contemporary moment are brought together, providing an opportunity to sort things out or let them fall apart. I am interested in the ways we all maintain the roles of protagonists and antagonists, the good guys and the enemies we so desperately require to define our political selves—the cowboys of the American west, or the German Nazis, for instance. Shadows of earlier anti-fascist sentiments continue to animate our vocabularies, and as we move through a period of pronounced iconographic migration, I wonder if our access to clarity is enhanced or further challenged in such an oversaturated, overstimulated environment?


The Civilians and the Military is the third part of my ongoing exploration of the play, Hurlyburly, by David Rabe. The play is driven by numerous, lengthy sessions of banter wherein the characters are reaching to understand and define how they fit into the abject, disjointed culture of the contemporary moment, in this case Los Angeles of the 1980s. As the play develops, the discussions between the protagonists progress deeper into an increasingly layered loss of definition. In the end they fail to define the culture they are a part of, they fall apart, and so does the play.


We have expectations of the work of art—it previously illuminated the sublime achievements and failures of the human condition. The question is, can art continue to assist in deciphering the contemporary moment?”


Dennis Balk is an educator, visual artist, writer and playwright active since the late 1980s. He is Chairperson of the Computer Graphics/ Multimedia Department at Bangkok University International. Balk has taught in the Arabian Gulf, at Università IUAV di Venezia, Yale University, and the University of California at Los Angeles. Balk exhibits widely, including a survey at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2009). Publications include particles + waves with plausibility (2006), Colin de Land, American Fine Arts (2008) and Dennis Balk/1890-2090 (2010).