Asylum of the Birds: an Interview with Roger Ballen

MF: this physical place that you commonly refer to as the asylum is contrastingly a place of refuge and at the same time a place of insanity, and you come back to it…

RB: I have been working in these type of places for over thirty years. I am not certain what attracts me to places like this. I often think of why animals with certain body colors find themselves hiding in environments with the same colors.


Birds are all that’s left of the wild world that we can see, like the horse from a hundred years ago, this world is also gradually disappearing from sight

As a result of the destruction of the earth’s natural environment there is exponentially less and less of the wild world. What people will define as wild will only be a packaged view of  this aspect of reality. In my lifetime there has been a huge shift in the way people experience nature. In South Africa, like in the rest of Africa one rarely sees a wild animal outside a park. I guess the challenge for the viewer in my latest book Asylum of the Birds is to decipher the metaphors between the birds and the so called ‘Roger Ballen’ space that they inhabit.

2_one_arm_goose_2004 BB057 001

when you say, i profoundly resent that the people i collaborate with are leveled as “freaks,” and would ask the people who make such commentary to evaluate themselves before making such accusations…who gives back to the civilized man the full force of his primitive instincts?

The older I become the more difficult it is for me to identify with how society tries for normality. Most of us would rather project our lack of internal awareness by bearing down on those who challenge our fragile sense of self.

4_roger_ballen_2001 5_Hanging pig, 2001

this Shadow Chamber you take us to, deep into the well, where black is a color for Borges, as a blind man he writes…that world of fog, a greenish or blueish fog, and vaguely luminous that is the world of the blind, people imagine a blind man enclosed in a black world, or in this case, this blind man longs for the color black, i would of liked to be near darkness, lean on darkness…

As I stated in my most recent video asylum of the birds, ‘the light comes from the dark.’ By entering those dark shadow interior zones of ourselves we will find that the dark contains the light that we have been searching for. It is one thing to find yourself in this deeper subconscious, but it is another to bring the buried fragments out so that they can manifest themselves. That is the crucial step: bringing the pieces to the surface and linking them with the exterior world that one is trying to transform through the camera.

6_2001Prowling: this man thought he was a cat, guess what he did? he would go from one piece of furniture to the next, and when he did this, he would go…meow, meow.
All images ©Roger Ballen, from Asylum of the Birds & Shadow Chamber


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