Humans and animals collide, merge and replace each other in an enigmatic artistic collaboration between photographer Roger Ballen and sculptor and designer Hans Lemmen, presented under the title Unleashed at the Musée de la chasse et de la nature in Paris (March 7, 2017 – June 4, 2017).
The works presented at the Unleashed exhibition stem from a long-distance collaboration between Roger Ballen and Hans Lemmen, with Ballen based in South Africa and Lemmen in Netherlands. In a manner similar to the surrealist cadavre exquis game in which the participants contribute a drawing or words to a piece of paper passed between a group, Lemmen and Ballen worked on fragments of each other’s work. Lemmen reduced Ballen’s photographs to simple fragments, drew over or manipulated them to reconstruct his final pieces. Ballen, on the other hand, incorporated Lemmen’s illustrations into photographs and installations intended to be eventually photographed.
Roger Ballen is already well known on the international photography scene for his black and white photographs, sometimes described as dark and even frightening by the audience, and also for his collaboration with South African group Die Antwoord for their “I fink U freaky” video. Having already explored themes of human-animal connection in his previous work, Ballen hopes to find the ‘animal in human mind’, to find the point where people become animals. With regards to his work for Unleashed, he says, “I think the purpose of art to me as always been to help people come to terms with their own repression and this has always been the problem in society from day 1 that, I guess when mankind decided to live with other mankind…”.
Hans Lemmen, who lives away from the city in Netherlands, is deeply interested in the study of humankind as just another species that has dissociated itself from the animal world over the course of time. With a certain nostalgia, his work evokes the time when men and animals lived in harmony. Inspired by prehistoric times since his childhood, Lemmen borrows the aesthetics of prehistoric cave art for his work where he denounces the destructive consequences of modernity and civilisation on animal and plant life. Speaking of his collaboration with Roger Ballen for Unleashed, Lemmen says “I didn’t know if it was possible to combine photographs and drawings until the last moment… We are animals, we are nothing else. We are animals with a more developed brain.”
The final outcome of this collaboration is a unique and elaborate mix of techniques and materials that seem to simultaneously traverse the terrains of surreal and outsider art. A large installation, featuring sculptured moulds of two artists surrounded by their animal world welcomes the users to the exhibition. The first part of the exhibition presents the individual works of Ballen and Lemmen. It is here that the visitor can see the two divergent worlds of the artists: Ballen’s work delves into the human psyche and the subconscious, while Lemmen’s is a study of human-animal relations.
The individual works are the key to understanding the collaborative works that follow. Each of the two artists interprets fragments of the other’s works and reconstructs his own idea of what it means to be ‘unleashed’ and ‘free’. In a series of fabulous works, compiled through photographs, cutouts, drawings, sculptures and collages, the personal visions of the two artists finally come together.
Human and animal figures float among primitive drawings juxtaposed against dark, dream-like backgrounds. Unpredictable animals – dogs, elephants, foxes, rabbits – inhabit the same space as art brut-esque human drawings. There is an altered sense of reality as man replaces the animal in everyday life situations and vice versa. Some of these seem to be surreal interpretations of dreams. Visually powerful and emotionally disorienting, they nonetheless linger on in one’s memory. These works – curious, absurd and satirical – allow one to be irrational, irreal, search for thoughts and forgotten memories of dreams that have been tucked away in the recesses of one’s mind. An exhibition that needs to be seen absolutely and urgently.
‘Roger Ballen and Hans Lemmen: Unleashed’ exhibition is on view at Musée de la chasse et de la nature, 62, rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, through June 4, 2017.
March 7, 2017 to June 4, 2017
At Musée de la chasse et de la nature
Unleashed: Roger Ballen and Hans Lemmen
Roger Ballen, a major international photographer, and Hans Lemmen, an artist inspired by the representation of nature, come together for a disturbingly exquisite collaboration for the latest exhibition at Musée de la chasse et de la nature, Paris.
Hans Lemmen, working in the Netherlands, reduces Roger Ballen’s photographs to simple fragments. He then completes the resulting pieces or inserts them into his graphic compositions. Thousands of kilometres away, Roger Ballen incorporates Hans Lemmen’s drawings in an installation in turn intended to be photographed.
Ballen, since moving to South Africa, has been exploring political and psychological questions surrounding the mankind and its relationship with nature in his images. His work expresses the absurdity of human condition. The images of those who have been left behind, who pose for the camera, are so many self-portraits as if, in their poverty, Ballen’s models hold up a mirror that reflects the dark side of the photographer himself. They explore the worrying and uncertain morphology of his psyche.
On the other hand, artist Hans Lemmen explores the imaginary territory where man and animal mix. Fascinated since childhood by the footprints left by our ancestors. Lemman’s work reminisces of the time when man did not have to live as if he were external to nature. Through a certain artistic primitivism, he denounces the suffering of the earth and of living species battered by modernity.
The exhibition at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature offers an opportunity to follow the creative process of these two artists. The artists themselves, represented by two life-size seated figures with the eyes of animals, welcome visitors through an installation they created jointly. They sit in the first room, accompanied by their pets and surrounded by contemporary parietal art: an illustration that runs along the four walls and across the floor of the room. The second part of the exhibition, devoted to personal and individual work, precedes the unpublished graphic works born of the collaboration between Ballen and Lemmen, on the principle of inclusion and reciprocal borrowing. To conclude the exhibition, a video documenting the production of these works, so foreign to their respective practices, shows how art thrives on constraints such as those defined here.
The exhibition is co-produced by the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht where it will be shown in 2018.
Musée de la chasse et de la nature