Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen

The World-renowned artist/photographer Roger Ballen belongs to the most recognised and innovative photographers of his generation.

13.10 - 18.11 2017

On Friday, October 13th, Roger Ballen's mesmerising universe was presented in an old circus tent for a one-night-only at Aker Brygge in Oslo. A selection of analogue photographs combined with movies, projections and a very distinctive soundscape by the Norwegian sound artist Timon Botez enabled those present to experience Ballen´s incomprehensible visionary world in an entirely new way. A Virtual Reality version of BALLENESQUE produced by OONI had its world premiére in the Circus tent that night. The event was a result of a close collaboration with Uncontaminated Oslo

In Roger Ballen's exhibition, works from the 1970s to the present is exhibited, depicting the evolution of the artist’s aesthetic which is now commonly referred to as BALLENESQUE.  The VR produced by OONI is  available on request.

Roger Ballen, who carries a PhD in Geology, was born in New York in 1950. He has worked and lived in Johannesburg, South Africa since the early 1980's. 

‘The images I create, I create not to inform. They are much rather meant to be understood as a coherent commentary on the chaos in our incomprehensible world. If I could attach any meaning to the images, they would be nothing more than simple photographs.’

Ballen increasingly brings painting, drawing, sculpture and graffiti to the foreground of his work. He distances himself from realistic representation and focuses on the image as a manifestation of a state of the mind or the soul, vision, dream or even nightmare. The figurative forms of Ballen’s expression seamlessly blend with newspaper clippings, cardboard drawings reminiscent of the Art brut-aesthetic cultivated by Jean Dubuffet or the Graffiti series of photographs by Brassaï. 

Roger Ballen’s work is shown in prestigious institutions around the world and represented in museum collections such as Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, Tate London, England, The Museum of Modern Art, USA and Louisiana in Denmark. Ballen’s collaboration with the rap group DIE ANTWOORD has opened his universe to the younger generation – his music video I FINK U FREEKY has received over 100 million views on youtube. He has issued 24 books since 1979, and his most recent book; BALLENESQUE - A Retrospective, published by Thames and Hudson was launched at a book signing event at WILLAS contemporary on Saturday, October 14th from 1-3 pm.

Roger Ballen - Theater of the Absurd
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Roger Ballen - Ballenesque
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WILLAS contemporary is pleased to present its first group show - LOOK AGAIN. 

Look. Then look again. The first you might notice is the aesthetic. Then you might discover the other side. The artists technique and aesthetic differ, but they all have one thing in common. They strive to create art that makes us question ourselves. Art that makes us look at the world from a different perspective.

Photographs by Roger Ballen, Nick Brandt, Steinar Christensen, Jeff Cowen, Arno Rafael Minkkinen and drawings by Kjell Torriset.

Our opening hours this summer are Tuesday - Saturday 12-5 pm and by appointment via


Elephant with Wasteland - Inherit the Dust - 2015 - Nick Brandt

Nick Brandt is an English photographer who photographs exclusively in the African continent, one of his goals being to record a last testament to the wild animals and places there before they are destroyed by the hands of man. Three years after the conclusion of his trilogy, “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls Across the Ravaged Land”, Nick Brandt returns to East Africa to photograph the escalating changes to the continent’s natural world.

In a series of epic panoramas, Brandt records the impact of man in places where animals used to roam, but can no longer do. In each location, Brandt erects a life size panel of one of his animal portrait photographs, setting the panels within a world of explosive urban development, factories, wastelands and quarries.

Works from ‘Inherit the Dust’ by Nick Brandt will be presented as a solo show at WILLAS contemporary opening on September 15th, 2016.


Eugene on the Phone - 2000 - by Roger Ballen

Over the past thirty years Roger Ballen’s distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In his earlier works his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear, but through the 1990’s he developed a style that he describes as documentary fiction. After 2000 the people he first discovered and documented living on the margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors working with Ballen in the series “Outland and Shadow Chamber” collaborating to create disturbing psychodramas.

The line between fantasy and reality in his more recent series “Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds” has become increasingly blurred and in these series he has employed drawings, paintings, collages and sculptural techniques to create elaborated sets. People are now often absent altogether; replaced by photographs of people used as props, by doll or dummy parts. Ballen has invented a new hybrid aesthetic in these works but one still rooted firmly in photography. His collaboration with the South African rap group Die Antwoord in directing the music video ‘I Fink you Freaky’ has so far been seen by over 80 million people.


Old Masters - 2016 - by Steinar Christensen


In a sense, Christensen’s work demonstrates his ability to open up discussions across genres and may be interpreted as comments on the current state of civilization. He demonstrates a unique ability to renew his artistic expression, yet his work primarily displays traditional still-lifes, incorporating both contemporary elements and art historical references.

The artist collaborates with experts in specific disciplines and embraces new techniques and materials, in constant search to visualize his social engagement. A common characteristic in Christensen’s work is the absence of people, however his art clearly expresses the Human condition. Christensen is well known for his photographic work with reference to the 17th century Dutch Golden Age as well as his monumental steel sculptures, star installations and international performances. In his most recent work he envisions the subject of death, through Kerberos, the dog of Hades, who guards the entrance to hell and devours the flesh of those who pass.

JEFF COWEN [1966] 

MOANA - 2007 - by Jeff Cowen

Jeff Cowen is recognized by his painterly and sculptural mural-sized compositions. During nearly 30 years now, black-and-white film photography has been at the center of Jeff Cowen’s art practice. His work incorporates subject (matter) such as the human figure, landscapes, still life and abstractions. He is captivated by what he calls the non-moment, the point in time just before or after something has happened. In his continual search for the unseen, Cowen’s imagery confronts our habits as visual voyagers and does not conform to any genre.

Cowen challenges the boundaries between photography, painting and sculpture. The artist works on thick silver based paper and adds a sense of form and depth by ripping the prints to pieces before re-assembling them to make something even more beautiful. Furthermore he experiments with various chemical treatments, specialized darkroom techniques or painted color.


Laurence Ta Cenc - 2002 - by Arno Rafael Minkkinen

For nearly 45 years now, Minkkinen has devoted his work exclusively to the nude self-portrait as a primary vehicle to express the human condition through images made in natural and urban landscapes. His photographs encompass several other genres, such as art performance, the male with female nude, and landscape photography, resulting in a body of work that challenges classification. Inviting the viewer to become a voyeur of sorts, he captures the beauty of being part of something bigger and more permanent than one’s own naked self.


Torriset´s interest in Art History, languages, literature and philosophical themes is evident in his fragmentary imagery. In his drawings, the rich and distinctive repertoire of shapes, architecture and written language are significant themes and articulated in a spontaneous but nuanced expression. His diverse methods form a dialogue between recognizable symbols and abstract structures, a visual universe where an enigmatic existence often emerges. The timelines intersect with these creations that carries within themselves the past and present where the human condition is considered in a wider historical perspective. In this exhibition we present Arctic Stare - an installation consisting of 32 individually framed drawings.

'I suppose its an ambitious work and one that I worked with over some time. I think I did decide that the drawings, as the work grew,  belonged to each other in some way and that I eventually wanted them exhibited together - as one piece.

They represented my many interests, my approach, all that I wanted my art to reflect, my interest in history, politics, religion, literature etc etc. and that gradually the dialogue between and across the work could come to the fore and demonstrate a coherence, or even the disjunction, in this  broad conversation - with so many voices, and that you as a viewer also became part of that conversation and made the connections that were needed. The sum of the many parts became the work, although many of the drawings could stand on their own, the chorale took on its own expression.

The title 'Arctic Stare' has been borrowed from a photo caption in W.H.Auden and Louis MacNeice's book "Journey to Iceland" from 1937 where the authors became aware of the nordic tendency to stare unrestrained, as if in a trance, at the world. Where I grew up we used to call this "Saude-stirren", the way sheep or the bovine creatures stare in almost hypnotised concentration and curiosity back at you.'

Kjell Torriset - June 2016.