Monday, 18 July 2011

Rodger Ballen: Skadukant

This weekend I went for a trip to Maastricht to see a concert, but during our stay we saw an excellent photography exhibition in the neighbouring city of Sittard, from Roger Ballen at the 'Museum Het Domein'. Ross, a photographer himself knew the artist's work and could recommend a short detour from schedule. Good decision.

Ballen's work is somewhere between complete abstraction and documentary. Like the documentary films of Werner Herzog, he exposes something of a characteristic or a emotion from a subject using the tools of artistic experience. They depict people from small towns in South Africa, who don't look like those from western society, pictured as happy monsters doing weird things but all content in doing so. The subject and underlining theme extends to the repression of outsider communities everywhere. I found myself uncontrollably linking the images with lunatic asylums and murder stories, the places that no one wants to talk about because they might be too disturbing to contemplate. As Ballen describes the images themselves are not necessarily disturbing, it's the viewer who is unlocking repressed emotions and it's what the audience brings with them that is where the magic happens.
As well as photography this show also had film and installation, which was really great to see. I hate it when artists stick to one practice. They trick themselves into thinking that one process is the best language to use for every subject and in doing so, don't ever understand how appropriate there chosen media is and where it lies in the vast media-spectrum of creativity. Ballen talked in one video about how he had to "go deep into the mine", a metaphor for himself and the hardest part "bringing it back up" an materialising and abstract idea into something more universal. This is similar to David Lynch's 'Catching the Big Fish', a book and now audiobook I'm currently listening to, but I'll write these ideas up later.

For more info on the exhibition... click here


  1. I went too. Very powerful and like the inclusions of the line drawings. The image with the snake and the telephone (not in exhibition) is one of my favourites

  2. I enjoyed this gallery visit for its artworks but also for the debate it stimulates as we discuss whay we like what we like and why we really hate some things. There was a really good quote about art being able to communicate without necessarily being understood which I thought was profound and Dave thought was rubbish. I liked best the large canvas entitled 'Le dormeur du val' of the soldier sleeping amongst the poppies on the battlefield. It's based on a Rimbaud poem that I used to study when I taught A level French. The last line tells you that he's dead. The canvas brought home the reality of war. Particularly poignant later in the week when we visited the American was graves outside the city.

  3. Well worded Dave. I think you described it pretty well. Definitely agree with you and Al about having a range of media, the video only strengthened the work. A great exhibition.
    I agree with Mum, the 'art' debates are some of the most interesting.


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