exhibition : PAST

Roger Ballen + Asger Carlsen



An unparalleled exploration into the subconscious: a groundbreaking collaboration
between two world-renowned artists at Diesel Art Gallery

Diesel Art Gallery is pleased to announce NO JOKE, a joint exhibition by Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen opening Friday May 26 and running through Thursday August 17, 2017.

This exhibition features a series of innovative collaborative pieces born from a game of artistic ping pong across oceans and time zones by Roger Ballen, a South Africa-based artist counted among the most important photographers of the 21st century, and Asger Carlsen, a photographer residing in New York whose unprecedented digitally processed photo collages featuring bodily sculptures have attracted international acclaim.

At the core of both artists’ work is a fascination with the subconscious and an unrivalled exploration of this complex realm of archetypal outsiders and the preternatural. With NO JOKE, they have joined forces to delve even further into the connection between the mind and body. Their perspective is composed of a combination of displacement1, having no sense of belonging, and an innate feeling of estrangement. It is also founded on an insatiable desire to craft and share their artistic vision through photographic creations.

Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 and currently resides in Johannesburg. Asger Carlsen was born in Frederiksberg, near Copenhagen, in 1973 and is now based in New York. Though separated by great distances, these two self-proclaimed outsiders teamed up in 2013 when they began frequently exchanging image files based on a single concept via e-mail and Skype. This image exchange continued for several years, with the result being a series of chimerical collages featuring countless layers of advanced digital processing, analog cut-and-paste work, and even drawing.

The motifs found in this project include things such as photographic images manipulated like sculptures, pictures with the two artists’ faces switched, body parts placed in locations they weren’t meant to be, mysteriously occupied spaces, hand-drawn masks or graffiti that have been cut out and patched together, along with everything from spiders and other animals to angels and devils. Each of these things were chosen from the duo’s personal collection of images and bears the look of something assembled in an imaginary shared studio space, or perhaps a dream machine unraveling a fantastic tale.

Though the collaboration bears a certain resemblance to the Surrealists’ exquisite corpse2, there is a greater sense of purpose behind the composition of each image. The artists’ talents have soared even further through the collaborative process and the resulting work exudes a wealth of creativity, indicating the duo’s success in creating a foundation upon which they could nurture something that is truly original. The fruits of their labor are just as we expected: truly bizarre images that impart feelings of unease.

As the artists expressed it in a recent interview with Office Magazine, “If you can define an idea with words then you can get rid of it. You can package it and put it in a supermarket. But if the art is indefinable it is more powerful in the subconscious, the subconscious can’t figure out what to do with it so it turns it over, turns it over, turns it over, trying to come up with some relationship to it … So the work should have that aspect of not being easily placed. If it’s too easily placed, it has no impact.”

NO JOKE was shown concurrently in 2016 at Dittrich & Schlechtriem in Germany and the V1 Gallery in Denmark, and a follow-up presentation was featured at the world’s largest photography festival Paris Photo in the same year. Now, Diesel Art Gallery is delighted to bring NO JOKE to Japan. The show features 25 pieces selected from the full 37 images in the series. Books and other merchandise related to the project will also be on sale at the gallery.

*1:Displacement: A defense mechanism in which one’s original desires are substituted for others that are more easily fulfilled.
*2:Exquisite corpse: A collaborative artistic method that traces its roots to Surrealism. Though it features the work of multiple artists, each artist creates their own part while remaining unaware of what their collaborators are making. The original French term is “le cadavre exquis”.


Title: NO JOKE
Artists: Roger Ballen, Asger Carlsen
Date: May 26 – August 17, 2017
WEB : www.diesel.co.jp/art
Address : cocoti B1F, 1-23-16, Shibuya,Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Phone : 03-6427-5955
Hours : 11:30 – 21:00
Holidays : Non-regular holiday
Curation : Tomo Kosuga (PLAY TANK)

【Asger Carlsen / Book Signing】

A signing event will be held during the exhibition period on May 26 19:00-21:00.


Tomo Kosuga is an art producer whose main focus is in the field of photography. He also works actively as an editor, writer, exhibition and event curator, and jury member for photography competitions. Kosuga is also the director of the Masahisa Fukase Archives, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the work of the late photographer Masahisa Fukase.

Installation Images

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

Photo: Wataru Kitao

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  • Roger Ballen


    Roger Ballen is a photographer born in New York, USA in 1950 who now resides in South Africa. He is regarded as one of the most important figures in photography in the 21st century. For over 30 years he has lived and worked in Johannesburg. Ballen’s unique style of photographic expression has evolved through the use of a simple square format and beautiful black & white tones. His recent series include elaborate images featuring techniques normally reserved for paintings, collages, or sculptures. Despite having invented this new form of hybrid aesthetic, there is no doubt that Ballen’s roots still remain firmly in the photographic realm. He directed the music video “I Fink U Freeky” for Cape Town rave/hip-hop group Die Antwoord in 2012, which has amassed over 90 million views on YouTube as of today.

  • Asger Carlsen


    Asger Carlsen was born in 1973 in Frederiksberg, Denmark and currently resides in New York. Carlsen is known for images that are at once refined yet somewhat grotesque, made through the application of digital processing to classic monotone photos. He launched his career at the age of 16 when he began selling his work to local newspapers. Carlsen would then become a commercial photographer after a stint shooting crime scenes. He now makes artwork for musicians like Fischerspooner, Cut Copy, and Ratatat, and has been featured in acclaimed publications like The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, Wired Magazine, Dazed and Confused, and Vice Magazine. Carlsen’s iconic books include “Hester” and “Wrong”.

View Works

Crumbled, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Scared Cat, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Sniff, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Swollen Leg, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Stretching, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Chicken on Back, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

Morphed, 2016 © Roger Ballen and Asger Carlsen, Image Courtesy DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin.

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Photo: Wataru Kitao

Asger Carlsen Special Interview for DIESEL ART GALLERY Exhibition "NO JOKE"

  • -- Why did you and Roger decide to collaborate for the artworks? What was it for?
    We started the project as a Commission for the vice photo issue. We only made 6 images for that issue. We then got offered to do a book with Morel books in London.

    -- How was the collaboration with Roger for the series? What did you feel? Is there any changes of your mind after collaborating with Roger?
    Rogers work was something that always inspired me and had a Big influence on my practice.

    -- Would you please let us know the highlights of "NO JOKE" for you?
    I really like the self-portrait images. I had a lot of fun making these images and they turned out really strange and magical. If you ask me.

    -- From this question, we would like to ask you about your personal history. Why did you decide to be a photographer?
    It seemed like an exciting job and and a good way to communicate and meet people.

    -- Almost of all your artworks have impressive photo-retouch. How did you find your current art style?
    I think there is a persistent urge and hope that the image can somehow appear different and maybe escape it's original narrative. By using Photoshop I found that I could change the image narrative and satisfy my urge by doing so.

  • -- Would you please let us know if you have any artists whom you were inspired? And why?
    Francis Bacon because of his portraying of the human body.

    -- How did you feel to stay in Tokyo as second time for you?
    Tokyo is my favorite city to visit. The best people and the best food. thank you.

    -- Please give your message to visitors of the NO JOKE exhibition.
    Just look at the work and feel free to create your own perceptions.

Interview 2

Amulet, 2011©Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen Special Interview for DIESEL ART GALLERY Exhibition "NO JOKE"

  • -- Would you please let us know the highlights of "NO JOKE" for you?
    The highlight of No Joke was finding out that my cooperation with Asger would lead to a new visual aesthetic that had the ability to remain in people’s mind.

    -- Would you please let us know the meaning of the title “NO JOKE” for you?
    No Joke means you better take seriously the images that you are viewing; they are a reality that has an element truth whether you like it or not…..

    -- How was the collaboration with Asger Carlsen for the series? What do you think of the artworks and the collaboration after creating?
    Asger and I worked together with mutual respect and our cooperation was constructive and stimulating. I was very proud of the artworks that I created with Asger. It is my belief that we have created a recognizable style in the field of photography

    -- From this question, we would like to ask you about your personal history. What was a trigger that you turned from geologist to artist? Why did you move to Johannesburg?
    My mother worked in Magnum in New York in the 1960’s and started one of the first photo galleries in New York during this time with famous photographers such as Andre Kertesz. I have been passionate about photography for nearly 50 years and only decided to turn it into a profession from a hobby around 2005 after my work received much success. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my work as a geologist.

    -- We can see powerful and unique drawings in your photographs. Do you have any concepts of the drawing? How did you learn it?
    When I was 23, I became obsessed with painting for six months or so. Nearly thirty years later I began to add drawings and paintings to my photographs to the current point that this media is an integral part of my work. I never think about what I will draw nor probe its meaning as the work should be multi-layered and beyond words.

  • -- You worked with musicians and fashion brands as Die Antwoord and COMME des GARÇONS. What is the most important thing of “collaboration” for you?
    By far the most important aspect of a collaboration is that there is mutual respect between the parties. Equally important is that the process is a creative one for both parties.

    -- Please let us know your current or upcoming projects.
    In September 2017, the publisher Thames and Hudson will be releasing a book titled Ballenesque, Roger Ballen, A Retrospective which will document the development of the Ballenesque style over 50 years. This is a very important project for me as I have written the text and tried to express my philosophy towards photography.

    -- Please give your message to visitors of the NO JOKE exhibition.
    Let the photographs enter you, transform your consciousness, dream about them night after night….

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