Over the years that we have visited his exhibitions and interacted with his work it's something he has often repeated – that what the viewer sees is a reaction – and more about the viewer's subconscious thoughts, anxieties and fears than about the objective fact of what's depicted in his photograph. Much like when a small child doesn't know to be fearful of a snake because no one has ever taught the child that – most of our fears are learned rather than intrinsic.
Ballen has a background in mining – which might also explain his fascination with what's beneath the surface.
Roger Ballen launched the Inside Out Centre for the Arts with the goal of fostering the arts in Johannesburg by hosting exhibitions, talks and workshops around art and contemporary issues in southern Africa. The Centre was a few years in the making, having been interrupted by Covid lockdowns and the pandemic that gripped the world for close to two years. Like many things, the vision for the Centre pre-Covid shifted as the world outside changed. What started as a project to archive Roger Ballen's work is now a space of installation.
The opening exhibition (March 2023) is a thought-provoking look at our relationship to animals and the animal world. It's a theme that runs through much of Ballen's photographic work where for years he has featured a cast of animals from a large menagerie, together with props, taxidermy, drawings and interesting humans. The Centre also features a small percentage of Roger Ballen's immense personal collection of vintage artefacts, objects of curiosity, toys and props, collected over a lifetime, from across the world. That in itself is worth viewing.
Look to your left as you drive past the zoo up Jan Smuts Avenue towards Braamfontein, and you'll see the minimalist building – inspired by Japanese architecture. Next door is the excellent Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre and tucked one street away into Forest Town, the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation. This is one of the reasons that Ballen chose the location – to be in the presence of these cultural institutions. He also chose it because it's a interesting midpoint between the city and the North, and of course close to home.
The Centre includes an administrative area, printing space, Ballen’s extensive archive and multiple exhibition spaces. With careful attention to the lighting in the space, it is ideally suited to host a broad spectrum of exhibitions.
'Ballen has a background in mining – which might also explain his fascination with what's beneath the surface.'
Ballen has lofty goals for the Centre and wants to create a new space where dialogue and creativity can flourish. Importantly, the goal of the Inside Out Centre for the Arts is to help South Africans locate the importance of art and relate it to their lives. Rather than a traditional white cube with its rapidly rotating exhibitions, the Centre has been designed by architect Joe Van Rooyen with constant input from Ballen to be a space which allows the viewer to slow down and becomes as much about the background surrounding the art as the art itself. The space lends itself to exploration, and the garden adds a tranquillity to the experience of visiting.
In addition to hosting exhibitions, the Inside Out Centre will host work from around the African continent related to Africa's culture, history and contemporary issues. Ballen's focus on work that induces a psychological impact on the viewer – an aspect of viewing highlighted by his own photographic practice – will shape the curatorial choices. With The Centre's plans for an educational programme to increase the accessibility, and awareness of art, alongside its exhibitions, its a valuable addition to Johannesburg's cultural landscape.
The Inside Out Centre for the Arts opens Tue, Mar 28, 2023 with End of the Game, a fascinating exhibition by Roger Ballen tackling our complex relationships to animals, by training a lens on the themes of safari, hunting and conservation. You can book your visit here.