Past exhibitions

Roger Ballen // The Theatre of Apparitions

By 29. 3. 2019 May 12th, 2019 No Comments

Roger Ballen
The Theatre of Apparitions

2.04.2019 – 30.05.2019

During the fifty years of his artistic practice, Roger Ballen, an American photographer naturalized in Johannesburg, South Africa, developed a recognizable photographic style which acquired the term Ballenesque. The elements of Ballenesque were constructed dynamically, shifting and crystalizing through the various phases of his creative process, which is a crossbreed between painting, drawing, installation, theatre...

Roger Ballen
The Theatre of Apparitions

During the fifty years of his artistic practice, Roger Ballen, an American photographer naturalized in Johannesburg, South Africa, developed a recognizable photographic style which acquired the term Ballenesque. The elements of Ballenesque were constructed dynamically, shifting and crystalizing through the various phases of his creative process, which is a crossbreed between painting, drawing, installation, theatre, performance and photography. Ballenesque, apart from describing the distinguishable style of the artist, announces something intangible, nondefinable, exciting, unnerving and dark, which permeates all of Ballen’s work. It addresses the uncomfortable ambivalence which the spectator cannot comprehend through sight alone.

The works reflect Ballen’s mental space, which the artist understands as a reflection of human condition in general. In his realistically imaginary space, everything is subjected to metamorphosis and transgression; it is a space devoid of order, rules, judgements, or morals. Animals, people, broken dolls, toys and other objects, no longer in use or lacking function, erratic lines, scribbles, graffiti, splashes and stains on the walls and naïve, almost child-like drawings form claustrophobic interiors. Logical construction and normative argument are replaced by excess, suspension, irrationality, the apparent randomness of elements, distortion, exaggeration, discrepancy and absurd humor. Ballen dives into the depths of his own universum (psyche), he is interested in the marginal, the edges of mentality, where real becomes imaginary, illusion becomes delusion, fact fiction, where conscious merges with subconscious, dreams become real and real becomes dreamlike. He is exploring the depths of primordial chaos, which he interprets as man’s natural state, marked by his inescapable end – death and nothingness.

The creation of The Theatre of Apparitionswas marked by Ballen’s thoughts and ideas on what happens after death and how the universe came into existence out of nothingness. He found the inspiration for the appropriate way of visualizing this in a cell of an abandoned female prison in Johannesburg. Light spilled through darkly colored windows into which drawings had been carved with a sharp object. Overcome by their luminosity, Ballen (together with Marguerite Russouw) spent years experimenting with different materials, colors, sprays, resins and emulsions, their viscosity, density and composition, which would have a similar effect on glass. He later used the glass of the window as a painterly canvas, a surface on which he drew in different proportions and sequences of application. He used different sharp objects to cut, scratch and carve images into surfaces. These were created as acts of momentary inspiration, as a type of automatic drawing, and were not created to exist.

The emotive, child-like drawing which Ballen develops in the process of transforming his own artistic signature and starts to use as an independent artistic medium in other projects, becomes completely independent, and photography takes on the role of a visual witness. In the formalistic sense, The Theatre of Apparitions is Ballen’s most painterly work, where contrasted photographs with pronounced grain and texture of the material present his visual documentation. Or, as Colin Rodes writes in the introduction to the bookThe Theatre of Apparitions: “These are spirit drawings. In a way. They are permanent record of bubbling-up of deeper, more primal psychological realms made manifest on a surface trough the interaction between a particular individual and fluid, physical materials. Or rather, they are photographs of visual reports from some psychic elsewhere.” Thus, The Theatre of Apparitionsis some type of a visual manifestation of the voyage into the (collective) subconscious in 7 acts (Persona, Burlesque, Eros, Transmuted, Melancholy, Fragmentation, Eteral). Subconsciousness, which is inhabited by everything individual and collective, which we’ve seemingly tamed through societal concepts of taboos and prohibitions – the darkest urges, impulses and desires, filled with violence, sexuality, chaos and fear of destruction.

The contrast between light and dark symbolises the entrance into darkness / emptiness from which apparitions emerge. The undefined in-between-space, inhabited by constantly changing hybrid beings (perhaps captured, imprisoned or lost), is dissolving the borders between outside and inside, the real and imaginary, animal and human. It represents a joining of opposites forming the same universe. Photography as the visual report of (Ballen’s) psyche, which comes from somewhere else, from another world, is a reminiscence of spiritual photography and the belief that photography captures what is invisible to the eyes. Early beliefs connected to photography were accompanied by an uncertainty regarding the very process of photographing, and was based on the conviction that culture, with the help of science, has achieved the unimaginable – it allowed for a direct copy of reality and the documentation of what is invisible and most highly sought after – proof of the existence of a soul. In photography, spiritualists found the hard, indesputable proof of the existence of spirits. Rather than using an indexical approach to the visible, Ballen is interested in the manifestation of the invisible, like a latent image in photography, appearing after the appropriate procedures. Any reference to the real is completely illusory. Photography is a way of transforming the invisible into visible. He considers it as a mirror, transmitting or translating and confirming something, which we implicitly understand, but are unable to express. He uses it as a tool for psychological excavations, reflections on the mysteries of our existence and materialization, visualization of his internal cosmos, a mental landscape made universal at a certain point. In the absurd shadow play of The Theatre of Apparitions, he feeds his imagination on the bottomless treasury of the collective unknown – mythology, archetypes, initiation ceremonies and rituals, visual art, (ancient) history and memory. We all, in some way, believe in some form of spirits.

Apparitions are beings whose role is not clearly defined, they are neutral, not good or bad by default, only a trace, reminder or cry of something we may have forgotten, repressed or lost. They are what Sigmund Freud is describing in his concept of the uncanny (dasUnheimlliche) and what inhibits other Ballen’s works – the terrifying which originates from the already known, the homelike; the unnerving element of the repressed rising to the surface. The plunge into nightmares and world of apparitions, however, does not bring a conclusion, epilogue, catharsis, solution or redemption even in the state of wakefulness. Even if it stems from the collective (subconscious), we each cope with an existential void in our own way. Jasna Jernejšek

Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950. Since 1982 he has been living and taking photographs in South Africa. In 2001 Outland (Phaidon Press, 2001) received the Best Photography Book of the Year Award at PhotoEspaña. In 2002 Ballen won the Photographer of the Year Award at the inaugural Rencontres dʼArles Awards. In 2005 his latest publication Shadow Chamber (Phaidon) has been released. In September 2017 Thames & Hudson published a large volume of the collected photography with extended commentary by Ballen titled Ballenesque Roger Ballen: A Retrospective. In 2002 he had solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles.

His work is represented in many museums, including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, La Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2009, he presented his work for the first time in Galerija Fotografija. He has taken his work into the realms of sculpture and installation, at Paris’ Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (2017), Australia’s Sydney College of the Arts (2016) and at the Serlachius Museum in Finland (2015) is to name but a few.  The spectacular installation at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2017, “House of the Ballenesque” was voted as one of the best exhibitions for 2017.

In 2018 at the Wiesbaden Biennale, Germany, another installation “Roger Ballen’s Bazaar/Bizarre” was created in an abandoned shopping centre. His contribution has not been limited to stills photography and Ballen has been the creator of a number of acclaimed and exhibited short films that dovetail with his photographic series’. The collaborative film I Fink You Freeky, created for the cult band Die Antwoord in 2012, has garnered over 125-million hits on YouTube.

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