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Step Inside Roger Ballens Asylum Of The Birds

Step Inside Roger Ballen’s Asylum Of The Birds

Roger Ballen’s photographs make your nightmares look quaint. For over 50 years the artist has been rendering a photographic reality too twisted to appear in reality or even the dark corners of the subconscious. Images like these can only occur in Ballen’s world.

Ballen began his photographic career documenting impoverished and marginalized South Africans, revealing in his unsettling depictions his viewers’ hunger for disturbing images themselves. But later in his works, Ballen veered more and more toward surreal imagery, meshing fact and fiction to plunge the deepest darkest regions of the subconscious.

In his newest exhibition, “Asylum,” Ballen probes a space somewhat real and somewhat imagined, inspired by a house that Ballen visited in Johannesburg years ago. The images toy with the dual connotations of an asylum as a site of comfort and captivity, safety and madness. We reached out to Ballen to learn more about his upcoming show.


The press release indicates that this exhibition signifies your shift from an observer to something else. Would you agree with that and if so, how would you describe this shift?

Well, I think what they meant is when you look at a photograph, you’re looking at a two dimensional object from a physical position. What I’ve done is made an elaborate installation, a particular type of room with a particular aesthetic that fits mine, a three-dimensional space. You can physically enter a Roger Ballen space which you can’t do with a photograph.

The Asylum series was inspired by a house you visited in 2008. What originally struck you about this space?

From 2008 until June, 2013 I’ve been working in a place I call the “Asylum of the Birds” building. I created 91 black-and-white photographs in a place — if you think of the “Psycho” house from Hitchcock’s movie, it’s sort of that type of building. The house contains a lot of birds flying around, as well as other animals who come in and out– birds, chickens, rats, spiders, lizards — and there also constantly people on the move. All of these elements came together in the photographs. Every picture of the series has a bird in it, that was the criteria. It may be a real bird, it may be a drawing of a bird, but there has to a bird there somewhere.

What intrigued about birds specifically?

Birds in most cultures, even from the beginning of Biblical times, have always been the link between heaven and earth. They are creatures from the heavens and they fly above us. The birds occupy a special space; they are this link between the soil and the sky.

Read the rest of the interview and see more images here:

via Step Inside Roger Ballens Asylum Of The Birds.