Like an exquisite corpse, Roger Ballen (New York, 1950)– a major photographer on the international stage – and Hans Lemmen (Venlo, 1959), an artist masterfully inspired by the questions surrounding the representation of nature, indulge in the disturbing game, working as a pair, pushing one another so each incorporates the approach of the other. A constraint that stimulates, beyond the artistic game, awakening more formal echoes that reveal a deep affinity between their two artistic worlds.
Between Roger Ballen and Hans Lemmen the clear community of their imagination erases the distance that separates them. In the Netherlands, Hans Lemmen reduces Roger Ballen’s photographs to simple fragments. He then completes the resulting pieces, or inserts them into graphic compositions. Thousands of kilometres away, Roger Ballen uses certain of Hans Lemmen’s drawings that he then includes in an installation in turn destined to be photographed. Since moving to South Africa, Ballen continues to explore the troubled margins of mankind, where precariousness is extreme and, solely concerned with surviving, mankind has neither the capacity nor the vanity to seek an escape from nature. This lack of definition is reflected in particular in man’s extreme closeness, his promiscuity with animals.
However Roger Ballen does not only restrict himself to this political interpretation. In the manner of Samuel Beckett, whom he sees as the source for his approach, his work is universal in scope. His images express the absurdity of the human condition. A strong statement that is equally a work of psychological investigation. The images of those who have been left behind, who pose for the camera, are so many self-portraits as if, in their poverty, Ballen’s models hold up a mirror that reflects the dark side of the photographer himself. They explore the worrying and uncertain morphology of his psyche.
In a cultural and social context very different from that of the African continent, Hans Lemmen explores in his own way the imaginary territory where man and animal mix. In his graphic work, as in his sculpture, the artist pursues a tireless quest for origins. Fascinated from childhood by the footprint left in the ground by our prehistoric ancestors, he remains nostalgic for the time when man did not live as if he were external to nature. Through a certain artistic primitivism, he denounces the suffering of the earth and of living species battered by modernity.