Daniel Lee and Roger Ballen

Daniel Lee and Roger Ballen

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai

Top: Daniel Lee, Origin, 1999–2003. Digital ink jet print, 57 x 76 cm each. Bottom: Roger Ballen, Twirling Wires, 2001. Photograph, archival pigment print, 80 x 80 cm. Courtesy OCAT Shanghai and the artists.

July 16, 2014

Daniel Lee and Roger Ballen
Metamorphosis – Mirror

13 July–14 September 2014

Opening: 12 July, 6–9pm

OCAT Shanghai
1016 North Suzhou Road 


Curated by Lian Zhiping and Mariagrazia Costantino

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai is proud to present Metamorphosis – Mirror, a double solo show by Daniel Lee and Roger Ballen. This is the sixth exhibition organized and hosted by the Shanghai seat of OCAT, and the first entirely dedicated to the work of two eminent photographers, marking the commitment of OCAT Shanghai towards photography as a crucial medium within the practice and language of contemporary art.

These two influential artists share a penchant for the grotesque, and privilege the mental and physical space of the threshold, the boundaries between humans and the surrounding environment—what is called “nature.”

Daniel Lee (b. 1945) has being living in the USA, precisely New York, for a long time now. He moved there from Taiwan, a territory with a troubled past that has generated at different times waves of sharp awareness of issues such as ethnic belonging and cultural background. Lee’s photographic work certainly falls under the notion of “metamorphosis,” a word he himself uses to describe the process at the basis of his research. His unique imagery can be located somewhere between the medieval bestiaries, Chinese traditional culture, Darwin’s evolutionist theories and their (still) debatable aspects. It also fits the idea of the “mirror,” in as much as mirrors activate our subjective consciousness and the consciousness of us as subjects, as the French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan argued. Mirrors also entail a certain degree of metamorphism, as they reflect and recompose synthetic images of reality in front of the viewer. Daniel Lee’s signature concept of “manimal” is achieved with a painstaking manual alteration of digitally processed portraits and is precisely this: an artificial synthesis between man and animal aiming at individuating a possible essence of humans, but above all of individuals. Lee’s “creatures,” featured in the photographic works, installations and animations from the series “Manimals” (1993), “Fate” (1995), “108 Windows” (1996), “Origin” (1999), “Self-Portrait” (1997), “Nightlife” (2001), “Harvest” (2004), “Dreams” (2008), question at first, then reaffirm this essence, whose deepest meaning lies in the belonging to the so-called “animal kingdom.”

Like Daniel Lee, Roger Ballen (b. 1950) left his country of origin – United States of America – and relocated to South Africa, where he settled from the early eighties, following his former job of mineral geologist. In the rural areas of this country, and in Johannesburg afterwards, Ballen found stories and extraordinary circumstances that became his “ordinary.” The works exhibited at OCAT Shanghai are taken from the early series “Dorps,” “Platteland,” “Outland,” “Shadow Chamber” and “Boarding House” and includes the recent “Asylum of the Birds.” In his preferred medium of square format black and white images, the new series is accompanied by the homonymous short documentary film directed by Ben Jay Crossman. The collaboration between Roger Ballen and the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord has resulted in the successful music clip “I Fink U Freeky” also included in this exhibition. 

For Ballen, places and territories always coincide with psychological realms. In all his photographs, a country crushed by the beauty of nature and the “fury” of a society made of juxtaposed cultures, is intentionally exoticized in an ironic and critical way, with the aim of removing it from any possible narrative encapsulation. Ballen says about his work: “I see my photographs as mirrors, reflectors, connectors that challenge the mind.” The photographer’s eyes register the dissonances implicit in this forced coexistence and individuate the inner poetic of objects, animals and environments in their silent interaction with people. Eventually, the inanimate is “humanized,” and humans get close to the condition of the inanimate. His outcasts dwell in a dimension not connoted by anything else but its semiotic truth, yet it can be said that they are at the core of history.

As often the case, the “transplantation” into different social contexts—in an interestingly reversed journey: Lee to New York and Ballen from New York—has prompted the two artists to investigate, almost verify, an extended notion of territory. The works presented in Metamorphosis – Mirror form, in their involuntarily game of cross-references, a pathway that eventually leads to the knowledge of the self through the experience of the other.


Daniel Lee and Roger Ballen at OCAT Shanghai
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OCT Contemporary Art Terminal Shanghai
July 16, 2014

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