Balas & Wax

Balas & Wax acknowledges our family histories and our interest in the tangible and the poetic.



Susy Bielak is an artist, writer, curator, programmer and educator whose projects have ranged from a happening staged on a seismic shake table, to prints pulled from engraved Formica kitchen tabletops. Collaborators have included rodeo cowboys, bus drivers, a veteran barbershop quartet, choreographers and engineers. Bielak’s work has been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally, including by the International Print Center, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and Walker Art Center. Her artwork and writing have been published in Art Papers, New American Paintings, and Poetry Magazine, among others. Bielak received her MFA from the University of California San Diego. Website:

Fred Schmalz an artist, poet, and editor whose current writing focuses on textual response to encounters with dance, music, architecture, and visual art. His debut poetry collection, Action in the Orchards, will be published by Nightboat Books in 2019. He edits and publishes the micropress Swerve Press. Website:


Balas & Wax is the ongoing collaborative art practice of Susy Bielak and Fred Schmalz, whose work focuses on the gravity and strangeness of contemporary cities. Their research draws from ethnography, journalism, and academic research, mining text and visual references, and looking for unexpected—even absurd—connections among government records, news stories, ephemera, and archival photographs.

Their work incorporates a broad range of influences to examine the visible and invisible workings of daily life and the dynamics of history. Susy’s upbringing in a diasporic Spanish-speaking immigrant community in Pittsburgh at a time of its de-industrialization and Fred’s familial connections to St. Louis and Chicago’s histories of urban transformation spurred their ongoing interests in the interplay of people and place.

Their work has been exhibited at EXPO Chicago, Experimental Sound Studio, The Franklin, Adds Donna, and other venues. They have recently received project funding from Threewalls and the Chicago Artists Coalition. They will be in residence at Hyde Park Art Center in October and November 2018, in advance of their participation in Health Club, a group exhibition opening in December 2018.



Inaugurating Threewalls’ Outside the Walls initiative, the Chicago contemporary art and community organization presents Settlement, the artist collaborative Balas & Wax’s roving, multifaceted project based in the artists’ northside neighborhood of Edgewater. Settlement launches September 15, 2018, with a sculptural installation in Lincoln Park. The installation—a series of ghostly architectural sculptures raised high above the park—evokes the city’s history of human and material displacement.

In a meditation on migration and the complications of urban development, Settlement uncovers the material and human connections between Chicago’s North and West side communities and the histories that bind them. Tracing that history back to the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway and the northern tip of Lake Shore Drive, the project integrates the voices of residents, past and present, to create works that resist dominant civic and media narratives.

*This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and the Alphawood Foundation.


Threewalls is always finding new ways to share our artist’s unique voices through exhibits, talks, and gatherings. We would like you to be the first to know about these opportunities.