Failed Obelisk

Mortar, Foam board
430 x 75 x 75 cm
Edition of 1

Balmforth's Failed Obelisk redefines our relationship to the obelisk, an object that is synonymous with technical achievement, triumph, human egotism and a hubristic connection to the divine. The obelisk symbolises stability, permanence and irrefutable authority, connoting a very specific type of power. Failed Obelisk takes the form of a traditional obelisk, with a detached apex suspended by a spring that appears to be coiled through the body of the monument. The image suggests a hypothetical former state of unity - broken when the accumulated tension of the compressed spring was released, forcibly disengaging the upper section. Through its sheer size and symbolic associations the obelisk is imbued with a palpable sense of potential energy. This latent energy is embodied in the mechanical function of the coiled spring, creating an opposition of tensions within the edifice. Failed Obelisk is a structure composed of the forces that will annihilate it, a testimony to the tendency towards instability within closed systems.The symbolic authority of the obelisk is, ultimately, fatally undermined by the failure to contain the mechanical forces concealed within. The release of the spring's pent-up energy destroys the symbolic integrity of the monument. Failed Obelisk renders the obelisk austere symbol of an inflexible and oppressive power, absurd. The result is a ruined monument to humiliated authority.


About The Artist

James Balmforth’s works are the outcome of an ongoing exploration and negotiation with materials, processes and transformation. He employs industrial techniques and mechanical apparatus to expose materials to forces such as extreme pressures or heat, evoking material expressivity. With a variety of methods and tools, Balmforth pushes materials to their physical limits and reveals thresholds, margins of tolerance, moments of transformation and their resultant forms or outcomes.

His practice uses sculpture and sculptural processes to draw out threads of material properties and capabilities, exploring symbolic mechanisms and how these can contribute to our ideas about history and society. Preoccupied with notions of limitation, thresholds and degradation, Balmforth’s management of subject and material focuses on the breaking points in a system, material or process and points towards the constructive outcomes of creative anarchy and destruction. By revealing the redemptive potential in collapse and degradation, the artist sees his work as exposing a latent potential, offering an optimistic, rather than fatalistic, worldview.

James Balmforth

Born: 1980

Other Artworks by James Balmforth at CASS


Boundary Interface

Through the direct encounter and manipulation of materials and processes, James Balmforth has created a triptych of site…

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