Roger Ballen: Theatrical Mechanics

Roger Ballen: Theatrical Mechanics

Roger Ballen: The Theatre of Apparitions captures the full creative scope of a figure known for investigations into the human unconscious.  The artist’s early work depicting sub-cultures who lived on the fringes of society were initially met with public hesitance, however, his subsequent series Shadow Chamber (2005), Boarding House (2009) and Asylum (2011) paved Ballen’s way into artistic memory. Monochrome compositions blur the distinctions between art and documentary, with a psychological element that unnervingly displaces the viewers’ sense of reality. The concentration upon the subconscious is shown in the title of the exhibition, chosen to convey the mechanics in which mental forms of life, such as dreams, imagination and memories, are portrayed upon the stage of the psyche.

Drawing on inspiration from hand-made carvings on blacked-out windows in an abandoned women’s prison, Ballen began experimenting with spray paint on glass. He would then either remove the paint to let light shine through, or draw over it, a technique that resulted in otherworldly, almost pre-historic-like cave paintings. These black, dimensionless spaces became canvases through which the artist projected his thoughts. A rarely planned, spontaneous approach to art formed mysterious, unique and unimaginable outcomes. However, the impulsive method through which Ballen operates is combined with an extensive knowledge of monochrome art photography; a deep understanding of the camera’s ability to integrate form and content is the foundation of each piece.

Theatre of Apparitions covers a spectrum of human ideologies, alongside mankind’s relationship to canines and the connection between the bird and the beast. The compositions extend also to reference ancient shamanistic visions and sacred symbols. It is these elements, from the ancestors of the human race, that Ballen believes to be inherently embedded in humanity through the process of evolution. “The images occupy a perceptual real” notes the artist, “a fragmented world of part-objects where fears of annihilation and chaotic perceptions merge reality and fantasy, self and other. These silhouettes are flicking archetypes origination from the collective memory of human kind.”

Roger Ballen: The Theatre of Apparitions, Hamiltons Gallery, London, open from 13 March.

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1. Roger Ballen, The Theatre of Apparitions (2016). Thames & Hudson