Dark. Uncomfortable. Disturbing.

 

“You can try for the rest of your life to come up with words that define these photographs, but you’re still not going to hit the bulls eye. And that’s what ultimately makes good art. Art that can stand on its own… Art that doesn’t necessarily need words to explain it.” —Roger Ballen

The deeply challenging, unquestionably unique photographic works of internationally acclaimed South African-based artist Roger Ballen, are coming to Sydney as part of the unique Conversations exhibition being held at the at Woollahara”s Queen Street Gallery next month.

Born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived in Johannesburg for the past 30 years, neither depicting nor exposing the people or places of his adopted land, but seeking to explore the boundaries of his chosen artistic medium.

Over the years, his works have shifted from a documentary style to highly psychological question marks that are at times tender and others, emotionally repellent, with his black and white photographs now acknowledged as being some of the most intensely shocking images being made in the world today.

Perhaps it is his ability to enliven the nightmarish flashes that can haunt the human brain, the confusing moment where a picture loses practical sense and becomes a sensation we cannot even recognise, let alone comprehend.

For example, Ballen brings to his stills a combination of online casino no haunted humans, animals and inanimate objects, all clawing for attention, seeking approval, expressing either desire, fear, mental incapacitation, sexual innuendo – often inducing a physical response in the viewer.

If you are looking for an answer, you could say they are meditations on the poor and downtrodden, on the hidden psychopaths behind the norms, on the innate link between humans and animals in our quest for survival.

But don’t try to answer the question. The emotion evoked is the artistic power in itself.

An artist of major international stature, Ballen recently released the book Boarding House, a semi-imaginary space of transient residence, of comings and goings, focusing on the evocative drawings and sculptural objects as well as the people and animals found within its confines.

He also directed the music video for cult South African rap-rave band Die Antwoord’s I Fink You Freeky, which Ballen describes thus: “Most of the sets started with almost like a ‘Roger Ballen still life’ and then we might have added in a mouth or foot or hand and then we went into them cinematically.” The evocative result can be seen above.

Ballen’s work is found at The Centre Georges Pompidou, France, Los Angles County Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His photographic book Outland was voted Book of the Year at the PhotoEspana Festival in Madrid, in 2001.

His works at Conversations are a must-see for those who embrace the challenge of artistic creations far removed from the mainstream.