ROGER BALLEN'S UNSETTLING, AVIAN-THEMED NEW BOOK IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH
Known for visually arresting, intricately staged, and often disturbing black and white photographs, South Africa-based photographer Roger Ballen’s latest book, Asylum for the Birds once again finds the artist constructing tableaus that combine the fantastical with the unsettling. Six years in the making and all shot on location within the interior confines of an undisclosed suburban Johannesburg home, Ballen’s images tap into a tension that for many, like a good rubbernecking, links the distressing with the entrancing.
Birds are recurrent throughout Ballen’s series. In Alter Ego (2010), a painted, solitary figure grasping doves in both hands, peers out from behind a crude cutout mask, the walls behind him dense with childlike sketches of faces and other symbols. Meanwhile, in Liberation (2011), a pair of seated models, one headless and cradling a latex head in his mask flanks a dove mid-flight. Ballen’s models include political refugees from war-torn locales such as Somalia and Congo, prison and mental hospital escapees, and anonymous run-aways. A gathering point for those living on the margins of society, in many ways Ballen’s Asylum is carnivalesque with the rough, sideshow character of the props and sets hinting at a playful subversiveness.
Last year, Ballen teamed up with the avant-garde South African rave rap duo Die Antwoord to direct the video for their track, "I Fink U Freeky" (click through the slideshow to watch). With over 43 million views on YouTube to date, posted comments run the gamut, with one viewer writing, “One of the weirdest videos I've ever seen.” While filming, Ballen met longtime Die Antwoord collaborator, Ben Crossman, and the two subsequently began working together. To accompany the release of Asylum for the Birds, Crossman directed a short film (above) that offers a rare view into the hidden, dystopic universe Ballen has created for himself and the few who inhabit it. While Crossman’s film offers us only fleeting glimpses, what is revealed of Ballen’s world will no doubt linger far longer.
Asylum of the Birds is published by Thames and Hudson and will be available in early April. For more information, visit www.rogerballen.com