“Every time you push the button of the camera you create a new reality.”
I met Roger Ballen in 2011 in a strange hotel near Paddington station in London. I knew his work well already and was mesmerised by the surreal quality of his photographs, never sure whether they were staged or real, stories or documentaries. Sitting in the lobby he began to unpack his latest series, The Asylum of the Birds, and still I had the same questions.
Next I visited him in Johannesburg, a city whose eerie ghostliness Ballen never fails to capture. We visited the asylum and it became clear, Roger didn’t just take photographs, he made them. He took real people, real emotions and real experiences and he organised them in real environments. The simplicity of these forms, and the connections Ballen makes between them, allude to deeper metaphorical meanings, and this can be said for every single one of his photographs.
This exhibition is about those connections, the interactions in his photographs, subtle or obvious. The selection of photographs, spanning his 40-year career so far, highlight the evolution of his work, illustrating Ballen’s ability to produce his very own aestheticised reality.
The connections between people and animals, life and death, line and abstraction, sanity and insanity (the list goes on) shine under Ballen’s lens. These psychological statements are as much about us, as they are about Ballen, creating the kind of artwork that once hung on our wall, never ceases to help us come to terms with our own inner self.
About the curator
Olivier Varenne, Co-Founder and Head Curator at Collectionair, is the Co-Director of Exhibitions & Collections and International Curator at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania, Australia. Based in London, Olivier Varenne has sourced most of the contemporary art in MONA’s collection. Through his relentless trips around the globe he has been instrumental in the buying and commissioning of works from a vast array of emerging artists, including Michel Blazy, Ryoji Ikeda, Oliver Beer and Ed Atkins, as well as securing masterpieces by artists such as Chris Ofili, Jean Tinguely and Jannis Kounellis. Olivier has also brought important installations such as Richard Wilson’s 20:50, Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca and Gregory Barsamian’s Artifact, to MONA.
Olivier has also succeeded in bringing important established contemporary artists to MONA for exhibitions and retrospectives. Most recently with Matthew Barney: River of Fundament (2014-2015), Marina Abramovic: Private Archeology (2015 - 2016) and Gilbert and George: The Art Exhibition (2015).
Along side others at Mona, Olivier has also co-curated Celeste Boursier Mougenot’s: From Hear to Ear (2009), Christian Boltanski: The Heart Archive (2010), Yannick Demmerle (2012), I Look to You and I See Nothing (2013; Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE); The art component of MONA FOMA and Dark Mofo and The Red Queen (2013 – 2014).
Alongside Jean-Hubert Martin and Tijs Visser, Olivier co-curated the 3rd Moscow Biennale in 2009 and Theâtre du Monde (2013 ; La Maison Rouge, Paris/Mona). In 2010 he curated On and On at Casa Encendida Museum, Madrid. As well as Wim Delvoye (2011 – 2012), Chiharu Shiota: In Silence (2011) and Beam in Thine Own Eye (2013).