Devin Balara

August 22 – September 5, 2021

Installation & Livestream, Devin Balara for Bird Show, 8/23/21

Air Messages (13 Ways)

by Jesse Malmed

Ever since I was little I’ve thought about scale. That’s just a small joke about a big idea. Those are both relative, constellative and comparative (like I am to my cousins). 

They talk about wine and cheese at galleries but the cheese part is from Loon’y Tunes, a little like the snob appeal the culture wars stoke (chardonnay-and-brie begets an avocado toast experience, and wait til you see what it costs). I think I have seen more birdseed at art exhibitions in the last year than cheese in my whole life*. 

People who have Devin Balara and Jesse Malmed in their phones may also know that I adore her work. I love the metal drawings, the way they articulate space (like speaking, like jointed), lines and how they make shapes. And I’ve shown and now live with a few of the banana peel / bird babes that, I dunno, might relate to this installation. Heavy levity. 

And scale, right? You get the right distance from most anything and its representationality becomes really clear. 

Some questions I had asked myself this week, before seeing this work:
What animal has the worst ADD?
What does sound like?
What’s the one more thing art critic Columbo might ask?
What do birds tweet?

I told my students it was a nest camera and learned later it was a ring camera. All I know about either is I’d use the latter if I were in the jewelry business. But sometimes a name is just a name. For instance: Devin Balara for Bird Show. 

I have spent a lot of unstructured and unresearched time wondering how animals think. Toward the end of Lydia Davis’ colossal THE COWS she notes “[the cows] do not know the words “person,” “neighbor,” “watch,” or even “cow.”” We’ve named so many birds after how we hear and transliterate their song. Chickadee, Bobwhite, Poorwill, Balara. 

A space announcing itself as intentional. As blank. 

And at Bird Show, where that’s the big idea, one cannot help but get bird-brained. What do they want, what do they need, what is art when you can fly without taking your shoes off?

Devin’s piece is architectural to birds, sculptural to humans, maybe miniscule and momentary for the trees on Winchester. Casting the top rocks of Saugatuck and surrounding environs with a manythings (what they call mishmosh at my favorite B-n-B**) seed mix, Balara performs a healthy switcheroo, another joyous confusion of scale and material towards an aesthetic experience as sustenance. 

There’s idle chatter amid certain art worlds about the flattening of the objet into a digital image, about the logic of circulation, about how whatever you’re making in the studio is eventually a jpg or, if you got representation, a pdf. But have you ever tried to wrap a mug in a pdf? What hunger does a jpg satiate? Images circulate, birds migrate, workers commute. The documentation for Bird Show is a series of images, yes, but also a captured livestream. A video file in form but something different in tone: the soft surveillance of an absent present, more like watching the light from the television at some neighbor’s bouncing against their wall. We seed torrents. 

How does a bird know if a snack is art? How do we know if this experience is art? After the good alchemical work of moving non-art into art spaces to transform it into art and moving art into non-art spaces and transforming them into art spaces and that demarcating can be invisible, what distance have we made and how is this distance measured? As a bird flies — not from a to b unless a is “a snack” and b is “back again” and a is “again” and b is “birdseed” and now we have the first quatrain. Serving as a choreographic magnet, they move toward the work — a guard yells “yes touching” — and in so doing trains our gaze. 

Seed streams, audience outreach, singing along to a doting line. 

* And this comes from someone who midweeks in Wisconsin, as we cultural elites describe commuting.

** New York Bagel and Bialy