Featured post

Sofa Portraits now available for pre-order

  1.          Sofa Portraits is now available for pre-order from my website (orders will deliver in October/November)   The pric...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Did Casie and Dresie Dance?

Did Casie and Dresie Dance?

One of the interesting things about seeing Roger Ballen's video of I fink u freeky by Die Antwoord is how it changes the way one sees his previous work.

Ballen started in documentary and moved into apparently darker psychological corners as he progressed, adding layers of wire, animals, graffiti, masks and cardboard boxes into ever weirder concoctions. He played up to this with his entertaining talks, a psychodramas which mixed performance with  hypothesis and a claim to the subconscious.

I always remember seeing the Chapman Brothers on TV talking about their Hell dioramas and saying how they were dives into the subconscious and what could be more subconscious than Nazis and kids with penis-faces. Well, the ultimate conclusion I came to was what could be more conscious than that.

Sam Taylor-Wood once gave a commentary on The Chapman Brothers when they were altering £20 at Frieze (or something like that). The Chapman Brothers  claimed the currency defacing undermines something or other and challenges this or that and subverts the rest. "But does it though?" said Taylor-Wood when appraised of this claim.

Indeed. Does it though? The retort to fit virtually every artist statement.

The same can be said of Roger Ballen's work. It's funny seeing the video, because it's a funny video. I've shown it a few disparate groups of people over the last few days and everyone seems to like it - they watch it with a smile on their face and leave humming the words to the song. I watch it with a smile on my face. I laugh and dance and what could be better than that. And roachs in the omelette. Yuk! Disgusting! Fabulous!!

So it seems that Ballen, who used to inhabit a world where the discourse of sobriety and pretension held sway, has entered a new discourse, that of entertainment.

And in a strange way, that alters everything he has ever done. There is always the temptation to use a shorthand critique of his work that can essentially be boiled down to weird with a beard and, having seen the video, it seems that is exactly what it is. Forget about race, costume, torture, exploitation or anything remotely to do with levels of consciousness, first and foremost he made his work to be weird and weird is entertainment. Because that's what he did with the video.

Or maybe not. Maybe we can get into the discourse of South African music and culture. And then we have to redefine our thoughts in that way. Did Die Antwoord  rip the music off, are they racist  and homophobic, are they really poor Afrikaans, are they Blackface?

 Oh my God, we're back into the same territory of wondering exactly what Ballen was doing making his pictures in the first place, of how and where it all fits into a global scheme of things. As for a South African scheme of things, I am just too ignorant of the cultural subtleties and projectings one's national racial stereotypes onto another country just doesn't work wherever you are talking about, wherever you come from.

Personally, I'm happy to see Ballen moving up and away from the dark world of his still wonderful (but are they though?) but increasingly self-consciously made photographs. I'll laugh at the video and do the same I do with pretty much all music I like that has sentiments I might not fully agree with. I'll pretend I didn't hear the words and that even if I did, then it doesn't really matter. And if I do think of it too much, then I'll do as Baloo did in the Jungle Book, when him and Bagheera are about to rescue Mowgli from King Louie and the monkeys. Baloo's mad, but as the music plays, Baloo weakens. "I'll tear him limb from limb, I'll beat him. I'll... I'll... Well, Man what a beat I'm gone man, solid gone."

Some quotes Roger Ballen gave (from an old blog post).

"I have created a Roger Ballen World."

"The meaning comes from the eyes."

"What are we trying to protect when we make our walls white and clean?"

"We are scared of nature. We are scared of animals."

"The relationship between people and animals is adverserial and usually one way. People who think differently are fooling themselves."

"What if I told you after I took this picture, the man took the puppy outside and strangled it? Would you believe me?"

"Modern life has blocked the relationship between man and animal. That's why people go out and buy a dog or a bunch of flowers."

"The horns may be plastic but they still mean something."

"Work done subconsciously is most important - don't walk away from your footprints."

"The eyes only reach you because they have the same emotion you have. Blankness."

"I did everything. You can't take photographs like me."



erik chevalier said...

It's a bit like those cinema movies that are then shown on tv and, because of the change in format, you can see the microphone at the top of the picture. I wonder, if an artist gives away the game, is that a good thing or bad thing for art and its public in general?

Stan B. said...

I'm one who liked Ballen's straight documentary photography more, simply because it so strongly hinted at all the subconscious stuff he now makes explicit- sometimes it's just trying too hard (a la Joel Peter Witkin).

As for Die Antwoord, I (like you) don't know enough of the cultural subtext it derives from to really "judge" it accurately (hell, I can't even pronounce it)- so I just go with the fun of it.

colin pantall said...

I think it's a good thing, Erik, but it does get the bullshit detectors going in a big way if only because of that change in format and we can suddenly see what's going on. But it's good. Up to a point.

That's it, Stan - it's JPW crossed with Sally Mann's evil twin sister (thank you Celia - I stole that from you). It is funny isn't it. Is it supposed to be? Does it matter? Is Ballen the master of the new Adams Family? Sounds good to me.

Mrs. Deane said...

Colin, you genius! I was thinking exactly of that Casie and Dresie photo, which is probably the first image I ever saw of Roger Ballen (and I still remember where: in a magazine I was reading in a grand café in the city where I was studying, over 20 years ago). Did they dance? Why not?! As to the other questions: I can only say that mr. Ballen has made a great escape from the world he had built. Maybe he got tired of himself? Who knows? At least things are moving again :)

colin pantall said...

Thanks Mrs Deane - someone else said that about dancing but exactly, why not! It's such an obvious thing, but we do inhabit pictures with our assumptions.

I don't think he got tired of himself, but I don't know. And I think he's still in the world he created. He's just moved that world into another galaxy - but it is an escape isn't it.

darrell Eager said...

It's like when you waken from a strange dream and you fall back a sleep having the same dream but now it's a cartoon.

colin pantall said...

Hey, Darrell, I have never done that - I've had dreams within a dream, and a dream machine that could read your dreams in a dream. I even got shot once, died and had an out of body experience. But I've never done the cartoon thing - but that's exactly what it's like. A great analogy. Do you have these dreams often?

darrell Eager said...

Colin, more than I like.

mark page said...

olin we are having a big show of his work at Manchester Art Gallery which I've had the pleasure (perhaps the wrong word) of co-selecting the pictures for. We are running the video along with over a hundred of his prints from throughout his career. It opens on the 30th March. He will also being doing some talks while the show runs see gallery website for details.

colin pantall said...

Nice one Mark - I'll definitely be up to see that. His talks are a performance - I love them but they don't go down well with everybody. I wonder if the video work will change the way he speaks about his work; it has become caricatured in a way because of the video. If he embraces that, it could be a very good thing.

mark page said...

He was also very keen for us to make an installation of one of the 'rooms' which he has done before during exhibitions. We didn't have the space/funds I'm sorry to say. I know that he is keen to move away from
making 'Documents'