Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Justin Balmain studio


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At Testing Grounds, Justin will be preparing an exhibition in Tromsø, Norway, and a seminar program at ERforS. The exhibition artwork draws from cryptographic inscriptions created for spiritual, physical, and metaphorical protection against the suspected magical properties of a Black Mirror – an optical device historically used in painting as a tool in pictorial image-making – held within the museum’s collections. 

Justin Balmain’s research-led approach draws from visual art, video essay and documentary disciplines to create hybrid multimedia works. Since completing Masters at the University of New South Wales, Balmain’s practice continues to explore the strategies and function of objects at the interstice of virtual and actual space, and within the collective imagination. 

Balmain is involved in a long-term research-driven residency with Enough Room for Space (ERforS), Brussels, and produced a project partnered with the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Marseille, France.

Justin Balmain

November 2019

I’ve been commencing video editing on my project in partnership with the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, Marseille, France. Having the space of a Testing Grounds studio has allowed for the research and conceptualisation of a new project into varying identifications of the thumb: opposable digit, gesture preexisting human language, symbology, torture, the internet, expression; emoji; Facebook ‘Like”, and hardware interfaces; the ”thumb” drive. I have been collecting online content – images, video, along with reading literature, that will inform the direction of a new video.

I started to think about the human thumb (opposable digit) that differentiates us from most other species on Earth and provides the ability to create and use tools. I was drawn to the thumb as a gestural form (thumbs up, OK) which led to other identifications of meaning (white power, an insult). This led to considerations of the thumb as a symbol and tool with the idea to poetically connect with the namesake, ‘Thumb’ drive; the thumb evolving towards a use-function, towards networked platforms and function.

I’ve been approaching this research by just turning up and utilising the studio space itself and connecting with residents and staff when possible. The act of being here has become a driver to continue with other editing, along with new research.


December 2019

I’ve been continuing research on my ‘Sore Thumb’ project and relying on print-outs to explore a potential narrative through visual modes. I commenced preliminary research into a project that looks at iPhone jailbreaking as a metaphor to individual agency within capital structures. I have also had a heavy grant/application writing month which has directed momentum away from practical work, making it a predominately computer dominant period.

With ‘Sore Thumb’ I became interested in the idea of intuitively placing images out of research on my wall as a way to start visualising a narrative, or map of the project. This has arrived through the space of having a studio; providing an ability to move things form the computer into a physical realm. The iPhone question has been an idea for a while, developing out of an interest in underground hacking cultures. The iPhone (and Apple) seemed a perfect model that encapsulates current global capitalist systems, which has led to research into a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game between iOS developers and underground developers.

I think what has changed with previous methodologies is that my research would largely determine the narrative and a large accumulation of information would occur. Currently my experimentation is allowing an earlier cull through this visual or spatial approach.

February 2020

What have you been experimenting with or making in your studio?

I have been making furniture using plans by the socialist Italian designer Enzo Mari

What brought you to this question?

It came about through family responsibilities that limited the creative time I was able to have in the studio

How are you approaching your experiment or research?

Very hands-on fabrication utilitarian objects that I am now considering as future installation elements within my work

Have you discovered something you’d like to share or want to tell people about?

Missed using the studio in January and look forward to more studio time and discussions over the remainder of the residency.

March 2020

I have been continuing my research into the “Sore Thumb” project, testing out some drawing ideas using flocking powder, writing a script for my ‘mirror’ project and meeting with an actress for that work.

The drawings have arisen out of a need to create in the studio in a very immediate way, that counterbalances the research and production of narrative/video projects. At the moment my enquiries are medium-based but draw upon text pulled from or relevant to my ‘mirror’ text.

The drawings are largely formal – just getting a sense of what the material does and how/if to proceed. With the script I am just pushing forward, spending a lot of time speaking out dialogue to try and make it sound ‘real’. I’m also talking regularly with an actress who is facilitating this process by outlining the ‘zones’ they are comfortable within. This is very much a fluid, collaborative process.

I’ve discovered that writing a script is hard, do not do it!!!