There is no question that Roger Ballen is one of the most significant, idiosyncratic and influential photographic artists on the contemporary scene. Ballen’s pictures, shifting between documentation and fiction, both unsettle and captivate the viewer.
His work is to be found in the collections of major museums across the world. Born in 1950 in New York, Roger Ballen has lived and worked in Johannesburg for many years.
The ARTCO gallery in Aachen is proud to present Roger Ballen in a solo exhibition. Alongside current work, the gallery will be showing work from Roger Ballen’s UNLEASHED series, produced in cooperation with the Dutch artist Hans Lemmen.
"Unleashed": Unsettling, even brutal, this is Roger Ballen as never seen before, revisiting the depths of the human psyche in a project together with Hans Lemmen; a project remarkable in every respect. Living thousands of miles apart, the two artists have worked on each other's works over a period of months. Photos and drawings have been exchanged and re-exchanged, dissected, made into collages, in part re-photographed and drawn over; an intense dialogue involving camera, scissors, charcoal and pen. The result is spectacular, transcending the boundaries across these several genres.
Quite different in background and cultural influences, what Ballen and Lemmen share is a passion for delving into the abyss of the human mind. Through their work, both trace and explore the cracks in human civilisation. What is it that makes humans different from animals? What distinguishes civilization from pre-civilization? What is the difference between life and death? A morbid mood pervades the work of both Ballen and Lemmen. Archaic figures populate their pictures. Animals and beasts feature, as in a surreal, dark nightmare, menacing and bizarre. One of the most vivid images is reminiscent of medieval depictions of demons: an old bearded man is lying on the ground, his head resting on two stones. A dog-like skeleton with a human skull and fleshy hand can be seen on his stomach and chest, his head held to the man's head. A kiss, a whisper, a last confession?
Roger Ballen made a name for himself through his brutally honest documentary photographs depicting the life of the white rural population of South Africa. In his photos, that "ruling class" suddenly appeared pathetic and pitiful, even disgusting.
Since the 1970s, Ballen has progressively moved away from documentary photography. In his more recent work, the artist has evolved into something like a director of a dark theatre of the mind, staging people and animals in surreal settings while intelligently toying with the emotions of his audience.