Concocting a narrative is a terrific opportunity to string together all manner of divergent tangents that are tethered to the drive of the story. It’s the same obsessive matrix I consider for stand-alone art works and installation scenarios, where this leads to that, which leads to this, which leads to that, often crisscrossing histories and other stylistic formats. That narrative web provides the allure, but the payoff of resolution comes from an altogether different place than what was initially inferred. It’s that kind of Rubik’s cube, rabbit hole I try to wrestle into a good story.
BOATS ON A RIVER
BOATS ON A RIVER The dusty, dirty, nearly torn-to-shreds, beat-to-death book of adventures you’d pull out of your satchel while crossing the open prairie by wagon train. Or, before and after work on the seven train. History is a trail of unexpected minutia and unfamiliar people you’re ill-prepared to meet. Very far away, but everybody is traveling the same speed. Inspired by the Americana of James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Portis. Writers who rendered the gritty, immersive realism of characters driven by urgency, traversing open country.
Mythology floods in on its own. Maybe a touch of the quizzically plausible Terry Gilliam.
Out on the river, guts and perseverance stay the course. Downriver, the destination.
BOATS ON A RIVER Representative Franklin Knight is newly elected to present-day Congress; he’s a dapper and cantankerous man in his sixties, a politician’s politician. Knight is also a bit of a dreamer and a man with more than his share of self-doubt; he’s a complicated gentleman. Knight decides that a Winnebago press-stop tour will be the most impressive formula to arrive in Washington. Out on the road, he considers a quick stop at one of America’s grand rivers should prove an enlightening experience. A brief glimpse of America, the great adventure. Knight goes down to the river accompanied by the son of the Winnebago’s driver, a twelve-year-old kid from Southern California. At the river’s edge, Knight experiences symptoms of a chronic heart condition. Too far from the Winnebago, by chance, a small boat appears and will take them to the closest medical attention. Soon enough, the men in the small boat reveal why they’re on the river—a truly puzzling predicament. The gritty adventure has begun. Knight and the boy move through episodes of river time and are confronted with several characters, each with their own challenging circumstances, yet determined to make their way downriver. Some of them are more than a little eccentric. A few of these traveling souls become part of the journey and reveal the profound nature of their participation. Moving down river, Knight and the boy are forced to participate in several episodes of intimidating confrontation. Some are life-affirming; others are life-threatening. During one of the more dangerous skirmishes, the young boy is seriously injured. Without medical attention, his life is in grave danger. Downriver has become an imperative.
Across the theater of continental America’s histories, there are processions of significance and defining events. Peopled throughout these scenarios are individuals and small collectives, tribal natives and invading soldiers, who were indeed the quintessential outsiders and non-conformists, swept up in defining moments with which they had little or no connection. Those antithetical dramas are certainly stories in their own right. Representative Knight finally arrives at his trip’s destination. Profoundly grateful; the revelation of the journey is his to tell, and every history is a story always told for the first time.
—The chapters of the novel progress in such a way that it feels very much like an old-time paperback, back-pocket reader. The adventures forge ahead; new characters come and go, some too eccentric to sustain their place in the story. In each chapter, the characters arrive in hyper-detailed, immersive, and historically rich scenarios. The drama of the story is less formulaic plot and more the accumulation of the adventure’s experiences and how the characters are changed by what the river delivers.
— A WILD RIDE DOWNRIVER…
Balk conjures a wild ride downriver into American history with brilliantly drawn characters from the present. Of course, literature can shape and distort time, interpenetrating the present and the past and vice versa. In Balk's able hands the journey is spectacular. I deeply enjoyed this adventure into Balk's rich and well-informed imagination.
—A MASTERFUL BLEND OF ADVENTURE STORY, HISTORICAL FICTION,
AND TIME TRAVEL
This book is a masterful blend of time travel, adventure story, and American history.
Strange encounters and unlikely alliances are forged as the characters move downstream through many twists and turns. I loved this book even though I am not an avid reader of historical fiction. It is well researched and detailed, but the plot really moves. Really kept me wondering what would come next.
A GRAPHIC READER
MORALITY COLLECTIVE invites the reader into a formal assemblage of short stories and narrative prose, interlaced with graphic visuals and visual art. The multiplicity of voices throughout the Reader find themselves intrigued by the thematic ideas of morality as a collective tactic, awkwardly wedged in the contemporary media moment. Morality evolution theories are teased with mini-dramas and short essays. Puzzling evidence is collected, forensic analysis— inconclusive.
MORALITY COLLECTIVE animates characters that scavenge the omnipresent veneer of social aesthetics in search of a decent enough story to perform for the enterprising and curious reader.
—The characters in the Reader maneuver through states of self-imposed victimhood, flipping through revolving narrative conventions to explore a proper fit.
—The Graphic Reader recruits the humor of newsy reportage to sift the anxious resolve we employ to achieve temporarily what we believe it means to be a proper, social being.
—Many of the short stories in the Reader are so pleasantly inconsequential, it’s as if the characters are passively waiting, somehow expecting to extricate themselves from the foul air of media-culture.
"For a long time I’ve been interested in creating physical sites of context-specific, aesthetic propositions, both fiction and non-fiction. The gallery work and exhibition installations are stagings of labyrinthine scenarios where the characters have long ago gone off to other places, other stories. The singular art works promote their own contextual fiction of the archived and warehoused remnants attached to larger stories happening elsewhere. The essays, exhibition novels, and graphic readers insist that the multiplicity of characters wrestle with their own aesthetic equations, which they’ve proposed for themselves."
SEVEN ELEVEN, The Complete Files
PART ONE, The Cash Register Files, is a collection of stories that revolve around a mysterious source of data that has been streamed directly into the store’s cash register. The codes, buried in the pop-visuals, have been decrypted by a group of renowned geneticists. The implications for our current understanding of human behavior are troubling. The characters—who are trapped in the convenience market—record their passing time in a variety of ways, which become their graphic stories. Several of the characters are young designers. Their designs are represented and critiqued in the book by a bevy of important professionals, which become other narratives embedded in the overall tale.
PART TWO, The Radio Interview, is the recorded and transcribed interview of the main characters long after the major event has passed. Their hardships become another narrative of noir drama, laced with suspicious conspiracies. The story comes together in the real-time interview, eventually dissolving into further unanswered questions. The unexpected conclusion is a shocker, especially for the author.
"As an independent code analyst in Mumbai, I first discovered the Rogue Personality Feed when I was isolating aspects of data stream noise, the digital noise that can accompany less than perfectly composed code strings. This type of noise can damage and corrupt even the most succinctly written code. Similar to misdirected DNA in a chromosome. We arranged these fragments into a typical sequence, and surprisingly, it was a coherent conversation. Coherent, not in the sense of worldly participation or commentary, but coherence in rows of isolated thoughts within a container of semiotic sameness. The data was a living stream, organizing its thoughts as it was downloading into the cash register. The stream was thinking in real time."
— The Exhibition Novel format works well to contain the multiple personalities of the author as well as the multiplicity of characters in the Seven Eleven story. The climax of the Large Panels, while spectacular, does not bode well for a society of cultured human beings.
This book is wildly inventive, visually exquisite, and culturally relevant. Eight people are trapped in the universally familiar setting of a Seven Eleven while a protest rages outside and communication with the outside world is temporarily suspended. Part adventure story, part mystery, and part catalog of exquisite images that were mysteriously received through the cash register. Was there a ghost in the machine trying to tell us something, or was it just our own imagery ricocheted back from space? Forensic and visual analysis and interpretation by historians, linguists, and scientists uncover meanings that may be of great import to humanity. The multiple voices, writing styles, and narratives, which are wide-ranging and hilarious at times, collide and accumulate significantly in this timely and scintillating narrative. While you could just flip through the book looking at the images, I recommend reading it as a novel. It’s on my shelf between J.G. Ballard and Don Delillo, where I believe it belongs. —Amazon Reviewer
ORANGE CRUSH T-SHIRT WITH DIALOG PANEL TESTS. 7/11, MIAMI UNTITLED ART FAIR, AUTUMN 2022
"It's interesting to consider the idea of the context as the subject in relation to object-oriented ontology or the idea of cultural merchandise desperate to demonstrate its detachment from the squabble of counter accusation. The formulas and protocols for gallery-market objects and the display of their eager efforts are now storied cultural expressions within the contemporary ramble of media wariness. Within the stew of everything, the formulas for target reception have their own elaborate and engaging dramas.”
"Narrative formulas are laboratories reaching to annotate the idiosyncratic insistence by the author that storytelling may have the energy potential to escape the orbit of self-propogating malaise and the suffocating amped-psyche of cultural impatience."
SPLINTER GROUP, The Long And Short Of It
The SPLINTER GROUP catalog presents the primary focus of the brand, the merchandising graphics and the visual clutter that accumulated around and throughout the streetwear and accessories merchandise. Inventory photography, merchandise samples, production design sketches, and drawings are well represented in the book. Prints Ads and pop-up announcements make up the majority of the visual design. Poetry, prose panels and short narratives composed with geopolitical photography from the Middle East and Southeast Asia are a primary component of the graphic visuals.
SPLINTER GROUP the brand can be seen as an extended effort within the broader context of gallery art, and the type of esoteric projects that operate in the outer parameters of cultural production. The short-lived, para-fiction projects in New York and the performance-as-concept movement in the recent history of art practices help define the overall experiment of the SPLINTER GROUP brand. The catalog documents the majority of the creative output from the design studio during the years 2010 - 2018. A short span of time for a fashion brand.
The streetwear clothing, primarily menswear and the accessories, primarily bags are exceptionally well made and produced by local crafts people and artisans. The high-adrenaline, aggressive graphics of the visual material, spread across the merchandise, is the signature of the brand's esthetic. A high percentage of the fabric print design began as gallery work, both paintings and sculpture. The criss-cross between what would be considered formally as artwork spread across the myriad surfaces of the merchandise defines the visual trip.
“The brand project came out of an early project: Hurly Burly, A Play By David Rabe, which was a group of gallery paintings and sculptural installation pieces which embraced the schism of ideological chaos as a theatrical narrative. I thought the idea of devoting a good portion of the studio work to developing my version of the David Rabe play was a great idea. It’s a terrific play. My earlier work in theater brought me to that discursive opportunity. In the project, I considered the sloganizing impetus of any topical, cultural message or ideological campaign as a communication failure. The breakdown is predictable, as is the splintered reception and corrosion of the original intention. I thought it was interesting enough to design t-shirts and collateral as primary material. Let the confusion reign and the pieces fall where they may. It was a tremendously freeing experiment, even though I adore the rigor of discourse I use in other areas of my projects. Once I committed to the production of the merchandise, it opened flood gates I hadn’t anticipated. It was a lot of energy and tremendous fun. I didn’t concern myself with a realistic marketing plan. The overall mess of the thing is what I found engaging.”
— Certainly, the façade of a sociopolitical indulgence within the brand esthetic will appeal to the rank-and-file ideologues who roam social media and hide in the dark web. Perhaps the catalog, The Long And Short Of It, the visual history of the brand, will reach an audience as confounded by their own role in contemporary culture as is this fashion brand, and they will resonate in that particular confusion.
— Considering the title of the catalog representing the brand; what is this really? How do you categorize this catalog? A history of the brand? An inventory, a shopper’s guide in the ruse of yet another graphic departure? Perhaps take it at face value and let the work present in this catalog define the brand as the noisy hype and lost-in-the-clouds esthetic culture it represents.
A SERIES OF LITTLE WHITE BOOKS
The narrative methods of History are themselves nomadic, they skip across genres animating accuracy or emphatic realism, desperate to connect with an audience eagerly anticipating revelation.
History can never render the truth of an individual,
not in a sun drenched coffee shop, a smoky downtown club or out on the road.
‘Channeled and streamed’ are the disenfranchised fragments that belong to no one and entertain everyone, for a moment, also quick to be discarded.
Trash pop, clever but charmless, infantile scratches.
Even further down below there has to be some way
back up. Some signage of indication that there are other walls and bridges, maybe other places.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day
to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day
are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with
open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
A Primitive is trapped in the cerebral archive, memories of pictures and fragments of pictures, fragments of memories of pictures. In there, not much else appears.
A Neo Primitive grabs the fragments with both theoretical hands and throws them down on any flat abandoned surface knowing they won’t mean anything more than more accumulated memory, more fragments, more pieces. Perfect symmetry. Once there, not much else occurs.
Dramatic fiction gives the truth a solid context.
Similarities and differences of identical material
had to be accounted for.
Don’t get me started,
let’s not even talk about history.
Placebos and Moirés are utilitarian,
hardly high art but the stand in,
the stunt double for serious art.
Cutting Edge is a doomed thematic
continuously replaced and outdated,
a Placebo avoids the pitfalls of replacement,
it is always considered nonreal anyway.
If there were a connection between these things out here
I would surely tell you all about it.
Until that time comes we’ll just keep lining them up
as they come along.
The rest, for all you seekers, is up to you.
That’s about the best we can do
out on Highway 61.
When stories of strange behavior and persecution
make their way to the light of day
the common belief is that less people become the victim
When stories attain the status of conspiracy
the light of day is the dark correspondence
tinged with unacceptable fiction
When stories are buried in the dark
only the correspondence
of forever repeating ciphers remains.