An artist with a complex, variegated past, Roger Ballen is considered to be one of the most interesting photographers on the international art scene. Born in the United States, he first came to South Africa in 1977 and in 1982 he moved permanently to Johannesburg, where he worked as a mining entrepreneur up until 2010.
His photographic career began in the documentary field, before evolving into the realm of fiction with the integration of other mediums, like films, installations, theatre, sculpture, painting and drawing. The American photographer’s favourite subjects are marginalised people, animals, found objects, wires and childlike drawings. His images combine macabre humour, fear and uncomfortable sensations. They are layered photographs that refer directly or covertly to the primitive part of the human condition, to symbols and tracks between order and chaos, folly and archetype, life and death.
In 2007, the photographer founded the Roger Ballen Foundation, dedicated to the progress of photography training, located in South Africa. The foundation’s activities include sponsoring international artists’ exhibitions and lessons for students from the city. To ensure these initiatives could be held on a regular basis, at a certain point, Roger Ballen began looking for a “house” and in January 2018 he bought a property in Forest Town, a traditionally middle-class suburb of Johannesburg.
That is how, between 2019 and 2020, the “Inside Out Center for Arts” came into being. The name summarises the process of internal, psychological discovery that is integral to the artist’s work, in which repressed or concealed material is brought to the forefront of consciousness in a shift from inside to outside.
The architect Joe Van Rooyen of JVR Architects was commissioned to design a multifunctional structure that incorporates an office or administrative area, a printing area, the artist’s archive and exhibition spaces for a range of artistic practices, including photography, installation, sculpture, drawing, painting and film.
Together with the architect, the artist chose concrete as the material that would create an ideal visual harmony with his photographs. The building and the chosen material draw their inspiration from the Brutalist movement of the 1950s. In a similar vein to Ballen’s works, this architectural movement aimed to confront the viewer with the “raw”, through its sculptural elements or bare building materials.
Inside, a structure dramatically cantilevered over the outdoor courtyard, houses the main office and administrative functions. The main double-height exhibition space is dominated by a circular suspended volume that recalls the abstract quality of the artist’s work and something between a ship’s porthole, a beacon and a film canister.
The geometry and “béton brut” (raw concrete) used by master architects, such as Tadao Ando, who was an important influence on the “Inside Out Centre”, filter soft light into the space, and also limit the risk of works being damaged by direct exposure to sunlight.
Artificial lighting avoids this risk of damage by using LED lamps and projected, concentrated light. There is no soft, homogeneous lighting, as artificial light is focused on the works while the rest of the structure is left in shadow. This also creates the same fundamental light and shadow concepts found in all Ballen’s works. View Opti Linear spotlights with wall washer optics have been installed, especially in spaces that require good vertical lighting and they are therefore used to illuminate certain walls on which the photographs are exhibited. They also light the installation in the entrance to the upper floor. In other cases, once again for exhibition reasons, a decision has been made to create a less homogeneous effect using Palco projectors with a spot optic to concentrate light on the photos on display. Palco projectors with a spot optic and in some cases Palco framers have also been used to light sculptural works, like the installation in the hall that features a hyena on a rope following a group of women.
With regard to the exteriors, the complex seeks to fit into its context without standing out. The building is low and surrounded by vegetation and thanks to its large windows, it creates a visual relationship with the landmarks of the nearby city, like the famous white spires of the Johannesburg temple.
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