Two Artists Build and Break Bodies—Including Their Own—in a Dark, Twisted New Show

The nude and semi-nude bodies in “No Joke,” now at Dittrich & Schlechtriem in Berlin, have been illustrated, fragmented, recombined, and otherwise manipulated in weird, wild ways. By turns humorous and disturbing, the altered photographs are strange fruits borne from a long-distance collaboration between Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, two artists captivated by the shadowy depths of the subconscious.

Their collaboration began in 2013 with a commission from VICE. For Carlsen—the younger of the two by nearly 25 years—it fulfilled a desire to work with an artist whose work had long fascinated him.

Since Ballen is based in South Africa and Carlsen in New York, they use Skype and email to communicate and pass images back and forth. They start with spare black-and-white photographs of themselves or nude female models in various poses. From there, they combine digital and analog processes—Photoshop, hand drawing, cutting, pasting—as they make the familiar strange in their grayscale grotesqueries.

The resulting images are off-the-wall—and that’s putting it mildly. In Chicken on Back (2016), a human ear and two noses sprout from the head of a chicken, while in Attached (2016), a nude female model stands among small figures, masks, and birds, her head obliterated by other body parts.

Despite the sense of playful wickedness, the artists are dead serious about their work. “It’s very clear to me that people are out of touch with their own interiors, their own personality, their own identity, so the pictures scare them, because they’re not able to integrate one part of themselves with another part of themselves,” Ballen explained to Office magazine. “If they think the work is dark and disturbing, I don’t know what they feel about life itself. It isn’t a ride on Santa’s snowmobile.”


—Karen Kedmey


Roger Ballen & Asger Carlsen: No Joke” is on view at Dittrich & Schlechtriem, Berlin, Sept. 16–Oct. 22, 2016.

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