Six artists respond to JG Ballardâ€™s novel The Drowned World: Roy Ananda Jon Cattapan Tracey Clement Kate Mitchell Janet Tavener Gosia Wlodarczak
Foreword Professor Colin Rhodes
Soon it would be too hot Tracey Clement
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Roy Ananda Jon Cattapan Tracey Clement Kate Mitchell Janet Tavener Gosia Wlodarczak
Itâ€™s the end of the world as we know it (a personal history) Tracey Clement
Ballard: Writer, Artist, Muse Tracey Clement
Afterword: New Materialism and The Drowned World Andrew Lavery and Madeleine Boyd
FOREWORD Mapping The Drowned World intensifies a creative conversation between a fictional vision of the future created more than half a century ago and a present in which that vision seems prescient. This is what all the best science fiction does. It chills more deeply the less fictional it becomes over time. Artist and writer Tracey Clement has worked with five other highly regarded artists to produce an exhibition which engages directly with JG Ballard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World, and thereby responds to some of the most pressing concerns of the contemporary world. If Ballard’s novel might be understood on one level as a cautionary Cold War allegory, it now seems only too much touched by realism, reflecting the global discourse of environmental anxiety that is now an ever-present aspect of daily life and the meat of scientific enquiry. And this is dressed in the age-old garb of a threatened apocalypse: an ever-present, though somewhat amorphous fear among the people; a problem to be solved by science. Artists don’t solve causal problems, though. Neither do they freeze in the face of some or other threat. They engage. They create critical conversations between past, present and future. What better moment, then, for Roy Ananda, Jon Cattapan, Tracey Clement, Kate Mitchell, Janet Tavener and Gosia Wlodarczak to consider their own responses to the rich vocabulary of ideas raised in Ballard’s novel and to extend the conversation of which it is the vortex? And what better place to do this than the richly textured spaces of the SCA Galleries, which themselves embody a complex conversation about place, belonging, time, and human agency? Clement’s project benefits from and enhances the work of the New Materialism in Contemporary Art (NMiCA) research cluster at the University. Its core members: Rebecca Beardmore, Mikala Dwyer, Matthys Gerber, Dr David Haines, Joyce Hinterding, Andrew Lavery, Dr Julie Rrap, Oliver Smith, Justene Williams, Associate Professor Barbara Bolt, and Clement herself, come together to create a fertile research collaboration that works at the level of matter and the non-human to offer an exemplar for practice-led research and the rich possibilities that are generated through intellectual exchange. I’d like to extend my sincere appreciation to all the contributors for the success of this exhibition, including the members of NMiCA and the artists. Thanks are also due to Dr Jacqueline Millner, Associate Dean of Research, for her continued support and advocacy for the research cluster model at Sydney College of the Arts. In particular, I extend my sincere appreciation to Tracey Clement for her inspiration and determination in delivering such an ambitious and, dare I say, prescient project. Professor Colin Rhodes
Dean, Sydney College of the Arts
SOON IT WOULD BE TOO HOT
“Soon it would be too hot.” ¹ This the first line of JG Ballard’s second novel, The Drowned World. Written in 1962, during the perpetual slow-burning crisis of the Cold War, it reads like a prescient vision of our current climate crisis. As a bridge between the post-war apocalyptic fears of the recent past and current eschatological anxieties, The Drowned World is a potentially rich source of inspiration for contemporary artists. I first read The Drowned World when I was about 19 years old. Ballard’s vivid, startling and disturbing post-apocalyptic imagery of a submerged city, strangled by vines and patrolled by carnivorous reptiles, has had a profound impact on how I view the world. Thanks to The Drowned World, I have known my entire adult life that humanity may indeed self-destruct, but with patient omnipotence the rest of the natural world will somehow survive. I also learned that knowledge comes in many guises: science fictions can be just as educational and inspirational as science facts. In the same way, I firmly believe that contemporary art can contribute to the dissemination of ideas and prompt debate on key issues. With this in mind, I have invited five other Australian artists to join me in making artwork in response to imagery and themes found in Ballard’s novel. In The Bodkin Experiments, Roy Ananda modifies tools used for empirical measurement. His works tap into the sense of uncertainty and scepticism towards science which permeates The Drowned World. Jon Cattapan evokes Ballard’s vision in a fresh iteration of his on-going project The City Submerged, a multi-panel installation of moody paintings which capture a watery nocturnal world. In Post-Premonitionism 2, I present an immersive sculpture of a ruined city in which we catch a glimpse of the future and are invited to contemplate our own complicity in creating climate catastrophe. Like the protagonist in The Drowned World, Kate Mitchell is drawn by the mesmerising pull of the sun in her video Beyond Setting Suns. The results are both comic and tragic. Janet Tavener’s lush photographs of ornate picture frames suspended in liquid beautifully evoke the collateral damage of a nature/culture clash. And Gosia Wlodarczak has created artworks that find their genesis in the very building blocks of Ballard’s novel: words. Together we are Mapping The Drowned World. Tracey Clement
1 J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, first ed. (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1962), 7. 2
Roy Ananda, The Bodkin Experiments (detail), 2015, modified tools and apparatus, found objects, mixed media, multiple elements, dimensions variable. Photo: Sam Roberts. Courtesy: the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects. 4
THE BODKIN EXPERIMENTS My contribution to Mapping The Drowned World reflects my long standing interest in generating work in response to the imagined worlds of speculative fiction. When using a literary narrative as a starting point, I am always mindful that access to, or appreciation of, the artwork should not be contingent on the familiarity of the viewer with the text. Similarly, it seems important that the resulting works should exist as extrapolations on the text rather than simply illustrations of it. In the case of The Drowned World, this illustrative approach has been executed very successfully elsewhere: firstly in the magnificent 1981 illustrated edition featuring watercolours by Dick French, and more recently on James Elliot’s Tumblr page (http://the-drowned-world.tumblr.com/). Previous works that I have made in response to fictional universes such as those of Star Wars, Warner Brothers cartoons and HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos have brimmed with boyish enthusiasm and been characterised by an aesthetic of raucous physicality. The rigorous plausibility that JG Ballard brings to his post-apocalyptic vision seemed to demand of me a more restrained sensibility. In placing the emphasis on mapping, the exhibition title speaks of the irrepressible human need to quantify and codify our experience of the world. By way of response, I have applied a strategy of modification, disruption and interference to some of the basic pieces of apparatus used to chart time, direction, volume, temperature and distance. The collective title of my work, The Bodkin Experiments, makes reference to attempts by the biologist character in the novel, Dr Alan Bodkin, to map and moderate the increasingly accelerated changes wrought on the human psyche by Ballard’s terrifying new Eden. In making such interventions in the elemental tools used to quantify the world, my work attempts to allude to the state of intense uncertainty that the author maintains throughout the course of the novel. RA
Roy Ananda, The Bodkin Experiments (detail), 2015, modified tools and apparatus, found objects, mixed media, multiple elements, dimensions variable. Photo: Sam Roberts. Courtesy: the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects.
ROY ANANDA is a South Australian artist, writer and educator. He has been actively exhibiting since 2001, creating objects, drawings, installations and videos that variously celebrate pop-culture fandom, play, process and the very act of making. Ananda has lectured at Adelaide Central School of Art for over ten years and is currently undertaking postgraduate research at the University of South Australia with a particular focus on the intersection of speculative fiction, fandom and contemporary art practice. 6
Jon Cattapan, The City Submerged No. 21 (Rising) (detail), 1991-2006, mixed media on canvas, 25 panels, dimensions variable. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Private collection. Image: courtesy the artist and Dominik Mersch Gallery. 8
THE CITY SUBMERGED The City Submerged is a fluid, evolving archive of fragments, made in different places, at different times, but always referring back to a loosely connected set of nocturnal urban reflections. It started in 1991, and all the while that I was making these paintings I was thinking about Ballard’s vision of The Drowned World, a narrative in which everything is getting ready to just slide away. I never illustrated Ballard’s work, but from the moment I read The Drowned World, in 1989, I understood that it would be a fairly influential book in my life and that Ballard was a kind of artist, a kindred spirit. It seemed to me, even at the time, that The Drowned World was a very prescient book: the tides had risen, everything had been flooded and people lived in amongst that. But I wasn’t necessarily interested in a post-apocalyptic representation. I didn’t want my paintings to be sci-fi, I wanted them to be of the here and now. What stayed with me from The Drowned Word was this sense that everything is in flux: social behaviour, the psychology of the people, the way of negotiating the world, the world itself. It helped to form a way of calibrating the world around me through this sensibility; a heightened awareness of territoriality, contingency, scarcity and fluidity. I’ve never really thought of myself as a political artist, but these are things that I’m interested in thinking about. And I believe that in spite of, or partly because of, the superabundance of images in contemporary life it is plausible that painting can still be important. Because it is slow, it reveals itself over time, it demands engagement and offers a deep reflective space. In The Drowned World, Ballard also presents a reflective space. His post-apocalyptic world is reflecting back to us our own world, not our own world as it was then, but our own world to come. JC
Jon Cattapan, Double Ellipse (from The City Submerged), 1991, oil on canvas, 50.6 x 85cm ea. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Private collection. Image: courtesy the artist and Dominik Mersch Gallery.
JON CATTAPAN is known for layered city vistas and figurative groupings which explore his long held preoccupation with the way that human beings negotiate territories. His extensive travels have deeply influenced his practice. In 2006 he was honoured with a major retrospective at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. In 2008 he became Australiaâ€™s 63rd official war artist. In 2013 Cattapan won the Bulgari Art Award. His work is held by the NGA and all Australian state gallery collections. 10
Tracey Clement, Post-Premonitionism 2 (detail), 2015, salt, rusty steel, cotton, dimensions variable, 36 units, height 80-190cm ea. Photo: Isobel Markus Dunworth. Courtesy: the artist. 12
POST-PREMONITIONISM 2 In 2007 I coined the phrase Post-Premonitionism, a term designed to ask ‘What do you do when you have already seen the future?’ This query took the form of a sculptural response to JG Ballard’s novel The Drowned World. I realised that we had been warned over and over that a climate crisis was coming, not only by science, but by the prescience of science fiction. And what did we do post-premonition? Not much, certainly not enough. In Post-Premonitionism 2 I revisit the vivid prognostications of Ballard’s novel. The numeral two in the title is a nod to its sci-fi origins, a genre often dismissed as kitsch even though it makes very popular movies, both B-grade and block-buster. Post-Premonitionism 2 is a sequel. In this artwork, salt, rather than water, is the destructive force. Fragile steel structures represent the skeletal remains of a ruined city perched on a landscape of corrosive, glittering white peaks. Twisted, rusty and ephemeral, this abstract city will eventually disintegrate completely. Thanks to its scale, Post-Premonitionism 2 draws on the conceptual qualities of architectural models, as well as ruins, in order to make a point. Architectural models are inherently aspirational. They embody potential, physically manifested, but not quite realised. They represent the future, while ruins illicit a temporal slippage between the past and the present. But as a model city, my artwork adds a third temporal stream: the future already devastated. Model cities are conventionally displayed so that the viewer takes a ‘god’s eye view’ like a triumphant ruler surveying his domain. In my work, the ruined city is positioned at eye height, precariously balanced on salty peaks of vaguely anthropomorphic volume, emphasising our complicity in creating this ruined future. Like Ballard’s novel, my ruined city is a warning. TC
Tracey Clement, Post-Premonitionism 2 (detail), 2015, salt, rusty steel, cotton, dimensions variable, 36 units, height 80-190cm ea. Photo: Isobel Markus Dunworth. Courtesy: the artist.
TRACEY CLEMENT is an artist, arts writer
and current PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. Her current research explores the intersection between The Drowned World and contemporary art, with a particular focus on imagery of the ruined city. She is known for creating artworks that meticulously utilise labour intensive techniques for their conceptual resonance. Clement has exhibited widely, both in Australia and overseas, and her writing is published regularly in numerous art and design magazines. 14
Kate Mitchell, Beyond Setting Suns (detail), 2014, production still II. Courtesy: the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery. 16
BEYOND SETTING SUNS This was the first time I’d read The Drowned World. As I was reading it my mind would drift back to these fantasy art cards I obsessively collected as a 13 year old. They were of strange sci-fi, post-apocalyptic worlds and their inhabitants. The images and themes I picked up on from the novel include: heat, death, alligators, wanting, indecision, escape, despair, depression, mind games, yearning, strategy, loss, memory and the mining of the unconscious mind. There was a sense that all the characters were facets of one larger personality, in much the same way that what you don’t like in other people is usually what you don’t like in yourself. And of course the sun. The sun in The Drowned World is a huge magnetic force. This is an obvious visual connection to my video Beyond Setting Suns. But there is also a layer of despair or depression which underpins the work. The images (scans of picturesque holiday postcards) loom large as representations of perceived perfect moments. These idyllic locations, seen as rewards for toiling away at work, are presented as places where worries dissipate and stress is non-existent. But all is not so in paradise. In my quest to reach such a utopia, to get to the perfect sunset, the spell is broken, lost and seemingly always beyond reach. I crash through the paper rather than enter in to it; leaving only the darkness beyond the fantasy to linger. There is a subconscious analytical thread, a deep mining of internal worlds, which links The Drowned World and my work Beyond Setting Suns. However, in the face of all adversity, still there is a hope that something better will be revealed, just around the corner. KM
Kate Mitchell, Beyond Setting Suns, 2014, production still I. Courtesy: the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery.
KATE MITCHELL lives and works in Sydney. She has
received a BFA with Honours and MFA from UNSW. Her video works present the intensive living out of conceived scenarios, often drawn from the slapstick, cartoonish end of popular culture. She revels in the spirit of endurance, existence, time, and effort, and commits to absurd and sometimes humorous actions, whilst facing up to her own capabilities and limitations of mind and body. She exhibits both nationally and internationally, including shows in the USA, Hong Kong and Turkey. 18
Janet Tavener, Broken Surface I, 2015, archival print on Canson Baryta, 90 x 90cm. Courtesy: the artist.
BROKEN SURFACE I work with constructed realities that act as a metaphor for shrinking polar icecaps; indicators of global climate change and the fragility of our environment. My photographs have an innate sense of loss, a frozen moment in time that has already passed. I first read The Drowned World while I was staying two blocks from the Arno River in Florence, just behind the Uffizi Museum. In 1966, just four years after Ballardâ€™s novel was published, this area was completely engulfed by the worst flood since 1557. More than 100 people were killed and millions of art masterpieces and rare books were damaged and destroyed. After the floods, angeli del fango (Mud Angels) came from all over the world to help restore the artworks and treasures. These Angels cleaned the city of refuse, mud and oil, and retrieved works of art, books and other materials from flooded rooms. Experts from around the world volunteered their time and knowledge because they thought these artefacts of culture were worth saving for future generations. Reading The Drowned World while I was absorbed in all of this history was a major influence on the way that I processed the novel. In the series of photographs I made in response, Broken Surface, ornate picture frames that once contained masterpieces have been picked up by the current and sunken deep into the warming waters. In The Drowned World the rising tides hold no future for humanity and its culture. The Mud AngelsÂ in the book are actually more like Mud Devils who pillage the drowned cites for treasure. Amongst other things, their ship is loaded with Renaissance paintings and stacks of heavy gilt frames. On viewing the artworks Kerans, the main character, likens them to bones. Here, as in my photographs, the frames are a symbol: an artefact of culture in a battle that nature has won. JT
Janet Tavener, Broken Surface I-III, 2015, archival prints on Canson Baryta, 90 x 90cm ea. Courtesy: the artist.
JANET TAVENER utilises photography and sculpture to create works which explore current issues such as climate change, consumerism and the geopolitics of food production and distribution in contemporary and colonial Australia. She has won major prizes for both photography and sculpture and her work has been exhibited in several significant award shows including the Blake Prize, the Sir John Sulman Prize and the National Photographic Portrait Prize. 22
Gosia Wlodarczak, Past As Future, Found in Translation. Interpretation Drawing #6, THE DROWNED WORD 3 with instructions for the viewer, 2015, digital photo and drawing collage, 33 x 48.5cm. Courtesy: the artist, Fehily Contemporary Melbourne, Helen Maxwell, and BoxoPROJECTS New York/Joshua Tree. 24
PAST AS FUTURE, FOUND IN TRANSLATION: THE DROWNED WORLD BY JG BALLARD INTERPRETATION DRAWING #6: THE DROWNED WORDS Translation happens all the time. Using knowledge, experience and character, all that enters the brain and the mind is remade, is interpreted, translated; the mind constructs an image of the world outside the body in order to understand, to provide a basis for response and to create. Language is a code. When words are the mode of communication, each individual uniquely remakes, interprets, translates and, de-codes words. In his 1962 book, The Drowned World, JG Ballard created a vision of a future post-catastrophic, surreal world based on his knowledge, contemporary to his time. He drew on scientific research, his experience, perception and imagination. His vision is a translation. The copy of Ballard’s book that I was given as one of the participants in Mapping The Drowned World was in English, my second language. Following my interest in chance and systems as determinants of my creative process, I picked ten consecutive words which I didn’t understand and used a dictionary to translate in order to learn their meaning. In 2013 I developed Found In Translation (FIT) Alphabet (derived from small details of my performance drawing, A Room Without a View) in which each detail represents the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Using this pictorial system I coded Ballard’s words into drawings, constructing a surreal world of my own. The Drowned Words is a suite of ten digital photo-collages accompanied by instructions for the viewer which explain how to read the words encoded in the individual collages. The images are built with details from my drawings and fragments of photographs documenting the reality which surrounds me; the world of my time. GW
Gosia Wlodarczak, Past As Future, Found in Translation. Interpretation Drawing #6, THE DROWNED WORD 6 with instructions for the viewer, 2015, digital photo and drawing collage, 33 x 48.5cm. Courtesy: the artist, Fehily Contemporary Melbourne, Helen Maxwell, and BoxoPROJECTS New York/Joshua Tree.
GOSIA WLODARCZAK was born in Poland and has been based in Melbourne since 1996. Drawing is the basis of her practice, extending towards performance, interactive situations, installation, sound, photo and moving-collage; she refers to it as trans-disciplinary drawing. Wlodarczak has won numerous grants and prizes and exhibits both nationally and internationally. Her work is held in major collections including: NGA, AGSA, AGNSW, QAGOMA, Artbank, RMIT, Edith Cowan University, Western Washington University and Poznan University of Fine Arts, Poland. 26
IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT... (a personal history)
The world has been ending my whole life. I’m a Cold War baby, a card carrying member of Gen-X: a whole generation that thought middle age was one problem we wouldn’t have to face. Never destined to reach 30, we understood that we’d go out in a blaze, not of glory, but of atomic fury when the Cold War finally turned way too hot. R.E.M’s bouncy (only semi-ironic) 1987 anthem ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)’ seemed to sum up the spirit of the age. The end was inevitable. W. Warren Wagar, an American history professor, tapped into this mood of eschatological resignation in his book Terminal Visions. “There have been endtimes aplenty in the six thousand years of recorded history, but none so universal or so dangerous,” he warned. “Be not deceived. Our twentieth-century endtime does surpass, in scope and destructive potential, all others.”¹ Writing in the early 1980s, as Leonid Brezhnev squared up against Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in a deadly political pissing contest, the destructive force looming in Wagar’s mind was nuclear megadeath. In 1980 the same climate of fear that fed his Terminal Visions led my father to move his family from the USA to New Zealand; a location deemed remote enough (and sufficiently politically insignificant) that it offered some chance, however slim, of surviving the impending Armageddon. In this way, eschatological anxieties have literally changed my life. Then in 1991 the Iron Curtain parted, the Wall fell, and for a brief heady moment it seemed like we might just make it. A very brief moment. The Cold War was ostensibly over, but a new crisis was already getting warmed up. The burgeoning science of ecology had been making dire predictions since the 1970s.² By 1988, well before the Berlin Wall came symbolically crashing down, the phrases ‘greenhouse effect’ and ‘global warming’ had entered the popular lexicon.3 In ‘The History of the Global Climate Change Regime,’ Daniel Bodansky, an authority on international law, traces the transformation of climate change from scientific hypothesis to political hot-potato. By 1997, year of the Kyoto Protocol, it had become an issue demanding global governmental action.4 28
Pinpointing the year when climate change infiltrated the zeitgeist as the new crisis of the age is a little trickier, not least of which because some die-hard deniers remain. But instinctively, 2005 seems about right. This is the year that I tried to read Australian author Colin Mason’s book, The 2030 Spike: Countdown to Global Catastrophe, and gave up because it was too depressing. Physicist Spencer Weart identifies 2005 as the moment when the American public finally started to believe that the crisis was real 5 and Hurricane Katrina helped make the point. And it was in 2005 that English journalist Robert Macfarlane issued a clarion call to arms directed at artists asking them to weigh-in on the climate change debate. He lamented, “Where are the novels, plays, columns, songs, libretti, of this massive contemporary anxiety?” 6 Ten years later climate change features in movies, TV shows, novels and artworks aplenty. It’s a fact of life. Ecological meltdown has replaced nuclear annihilation as the always present, ever looming threat. Eschatological anxiety is back with a vengeance. Climate change is the new cold war, an amorphous, creeping, insidious crisis. Imminent, inexorable, inevitable. The end, it seems, is always nigh. Literary critic Frank Kermode makes precisely this point in his seminal work on the significance of apocalyptic fictions, The Sense of an Ending. Kermode was writing in the mid 1960s, a time when the Cold War threated to turn white-hot in Cuba and Holocaust survivors (evidence of just how far ideological zealots are prepared to go) were still very much alive. Yet, unlike Wagar, he was able to see that his eschatological anxieties, although entirely justified, were not unique. Kermode argues that every age has its own apocalyptic terrors; we are culturally conditioned to look towards the end.7 According to Kermode, we use stories about the end “to make sense of our lives from where we are, as it were, stranded in the middle...” 8 In her 2008 book Apocalyptic Transformation, Elizabeth Rosen, deeply indebted to Kermode, concurs saying, “Apocalypse is a means by which to understand the world and one’s place in it. It is an organizing principle imposed on an overwhelming, seemingly disordered universe.” 9 This explains, at least in part, the perennial popularity of Ballard’s 1962 post-apocalyptic novel, The Drowned World. (Given my history, my own interest is perhaps inevitable.) So what sense can we make of our world by reading (or re-reading) The Drowned World? In Ballard’s story, steadily rising temperatures have caused the oceans to rise, flooding all the major cities and reshaping global terrain. Most of the planet is too hot, wet and full of alligators to be habitable by humans. The vestiges of organised society operate out of a UN run station in Greenland. The action in The Drowned World takes place around a lagoon in the submerged city of London. The sun is huge and pulsating. It enters the dreams of Ballard’s characters and exerts an inexorable pull. At the end of the novel, the protagonist Kerans (he’s certainly not a hero) chooses to walk south, towards certain death. At first glance, The Drowned World seems unapologetically nihilistic, a criticism often levelled at Ballard.10 And this comes as no surprise. After all, it’s a Cold War novel. As Ballard scholar Jeanette Baxter so perceptively notes in her analysis of The Drowned World, “The sun which overwhelms Ballard’s landscape can be read in terms of a nuclear explosion.” 11 29
Today, that same relentless sun reads like a prescient vision of climate change, the key crisis of our age. And close inspection reveals that Ballard’s novel actually offers both redemption and a certain kind of hope, perhaps more relevant now than ever before. Post-apocalyptic stories aren’t about the end. They are about what happens next. Rosen makes a distinction between what she calls “neo-apocalyptic stories” (which are unrelentingly grim) and stories in the traditional biblical mode, which, despite being secular, draw on the fact that the apocalypse is inextricably linked to reward. It is the promise of a new heaven on earth. In these stories, destruction is tempered by hope and the promise of redemption.12 Writing in the traditional apocalyptic mode, Ballard offers hope, but not an unequivocal happy ending. His images of a ruined metropolis are mesmerising and beautiful, but they are also infused with the scent of melancholia and the distinct whiff of decay. And this is no coincidence, for although The Drowned World is extraordinarily fecund (life in myriad forms proliferates and thrives) the ascendency of mankind is on the wane. Human fertility has been declining for decades and in the final lines of the novel Kerans walks deeper and deeper into the jungle, a sweltering, inhospitable environment he cannot hope to survive in. He willingly, wilfully, chooses death over self-preservation. In this ending, Ballard anticipates the work of Australian cultural theorist Claire Colebrook by more than 50 years. In her 2014 book, Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Colebrook dares to suggest that human extinction may not only be inevitable, it may be desirable. Colebrook argues that as we find ourselves in the midst of the sixth great extinction, spirally towards ecological meltdown, the key philosophical questions have changed. “The question,” she says, “is not one of how we humans can justify a hostile life, but how we can possibly justify ourselves given our malevolent relation to life.”13 Colebrook spends some time discussing the recent proliferation of post-apocalyptic cultural production. On the whole she is quite critical of the genre. At best she says the post– apocalyptic can be read as a question posed as to “whether humans ought to survive.”14 Ballard eloquently answered this question more than half a century ago in The Drowned World. In his setting of a ruined city, a potent symbol of nature and culture at last entwined, we are forced to acknowledge that man is not the centre of all things, but just one life-form among many. Our survival is not imperative, it is conditional and precarious. In The Drowned World we confront the possibility (perhaps the inevitability) of our own extinction. In this way, Ballard offers hope. Not the Hollywood-style hope that humanity will survive at all costs, but a pragmatic, redemptive vision perfect for the anthropocene:15 a vision in which the rest of life is given the chance to go on without us. Is Ballard’s novel prescient? Is the end really coming this time? Having lived through one eschatological crisis already, I just don’t know. But I did get a taste of the real drowned world on April 25, 2015 when my ceiling collapsed and my house flooded in a catastrophic hail storm. In The Drowned World Ballard manages to make waterlogged, fungus strewn interiors seem lush and seductive; a beguiling union of nature and culture. But in reality there is nothing nice about water pouring though your ceiling, running down your walls, dripping through your floor, seeping into your books. It’s terrifying, devastating, disastrous. 30
Climate change is a disaster that is already happening. So what can we, as artists, do? What we have always done: bear witness. Art is a language. Like music or poetry, it is a wonderfully ambiguous, lyrical code that defies empirical quantification. Art is a language that gets both lost and found in translation. Unlike words, it defies the didactic strictures of dictionary definitions. It is deliciously obtuse, multivalent, multi-lingual and multi-media. Art is a manifestation of abstract thought, a way to describe the indescribable, a way to say what can only be felt. Art can communicate ideas that can’t be constrained by words, ideas that are too big, too overwhelming, incomprehensible and slippery: ideas like the end.16 Can art change the world? Can we avert, divert or even mitigate a crisis already in motion? I don’t know. What artists can do is start a conversation. We can talk about the end of the world as we know it. Tracey Clement
W. Warren Wagar, Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), xiii.
3 Several theorists pinpoint 1988, the year of well publicised US Congressional hearings on climate change. See for example: Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (London: Viking, 1990), 22; Daniel Bodansky, “The History of the Global Climate Change Regime,” in International Relations and Global Climate Change, ed. Urs Luterbacher and Detlef F. Sprinz (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), 27; Spencer Weart, “The Public and Climate Change,” American Institute of Physics, https://www.aip.org/history/climate/public.htm. 4 Although the response wasn’t unilateral, Bodansky does highlight the fact that it was clear to all involved that action was needed. Bodansky, “The History of the Global Climate Change Regime,” 37. 5
Weart, “The Public and Climate Change”.
Robert Macfarlane, “The Burning Question,” The Guardian, 24 September 2005. This lament struck a chord and is often quoted in literature on climate change fiction (cli-fi). See for example: Adam Trexler and Adeline Johns-Putra, “Climate Change in Literature and Literary Criticism,” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 2, no. 2 (2011): 185; Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, “Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre,” Dissent 60, no. 3 (2013): 59.
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 93-99.
8 Ibid., 190. 9 Elizabeth K. Rosen, Apocalyptic Transformation: Apocalypse and the Postmodern Imagination (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008), xi. 10 See for example Fallowell who berates Ballard for being a “prophet of doom”: Duncan Fallowell, “Ballard in Bondage,” review of Ballard’s collection of short stories, Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories, Books and Bookmen (1977): 60. 11 Jeannette Baxter, J.G. Ballard’s Surrealist Imagination: Spectacular Authorship (Farnham, England; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009), 35. 12 Rosen, Apocalyptic Transformation: Apocalypse and the Postmodern Imagination xiv. 13 My emphasis. Claire Colebrook, Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, ed. Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook, vol. 1, Critical Climate Change (Ann Arbor, Michigan Open Humanities Press, 2014), 198. 14 Ibid., 190. 15 The phrase anthropocene was coined in 2002 by the atmospheric chemist Paul Jozef Crutzen to describe the fact that mankind’s catastrophic impact on the environment can now be read geologically. Paul J. Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415, no. 6867 (2002): 23. 16 For a longer and slightly different version of this passionate tirade see: Tracey Clement, “Devolving Futures: Making Art in the New Millennium,” Art Guide Australia, http://artguide.com.au/articles-page/show/devolving-futures-makingart-in-the-new-millennium/.
BALLARD: WRITER ARTIST MUSE
Between 1956, when his first short story was printed, and his death in 2009, JG Ballard published nearly 20 novels, three autobiographies (two fictionalised and one actual), almost 100 short stories (published individually in magazines and corralled into more than 20 different collections), numerous editorials, interviews, catalogue essays and other opinion pieces. To say that Ballard was extraordinarily prolific is an understatement and his oeuvre is notoriously heterogeneous. In fiction alone it oscillates wildly between his contributions to the ‘New Wave’ of British sci-fi; his early post-apocalyptic visions of the future such as The Drowned World, 1962; and his almost conventional, prize winning, semi autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, 1984. He also wrote controversial experimental short fiction (The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970), celebrity infused car-culture porn (Crash, 1973), and meditations on the dystopian present (High Rise, 1975 and Kingdom Come, 2006). Ballard’s status as an important underground figure was confirmed in 1984 when he became the subject of a monograph edited by V. Vale, founder of Re/Search publications and purveyor of all things cult-y, kinky and cool. In addition, he has been the subject of at least a dozen scholarly monographs and many, many more critical essays. And Ballard is one of only a handful of authors who have such distinctive style and vision that their work enters both popular culture and mainstream dictionaries as a word. Think Homeric, Shakespearean, Joycean, Kafkaesque and Ballardian.1 JG Ballard’s significance as a writer is clear, but not entirely straightforward. He has nearly as many detractors as obsessed devotees. His harsher critics have noted that Ballard creates poorly sketched, one-dimensional, sexist characters utilising prose that is conventional at best.2 And they have a point. Even his most ardent admirers are forced to admit that crafting sympathetic, well rounded protagonists is not Ballard’s forte. As David Pringle, one of his earliest and most consistent champions, tactfully puts it in his 1979 book Earth is the Alien Planet, “Ballard is a writer who is drawn to visual symbols, an author with a painter’s eye rather than a poets tongue…” 3 JG Ballard is indeed a writer of remarkable visual dexterity. Many critics over the years have noted the richness of Ballard’s imagery and his affinity with art, specifically Surrealism and Pop Art.4 In his autobiography, Miracles of Life, published in 2008, Ballard himself discusses the impact his fascination with art had on his writing and his world view. He describes his visit to This is Tomorrow, a seminal Pop Art exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in 1956, as a “revelation” and a vindication of his decision to write science fiction. 5 34
In fact, Ballard admits that at one stage he thought he’d like to be a painter, but he found that he was better at conjuring images with words than with brushes. “I think I always was a frustrated painter,” he said in a 1975 interview. “They are all paintings, really, my novels and stories.” The author even went so far as to declare, “When I start painting I shall stop writing!” 6 Yet Ballard did produce some works of visual art. In addition to collages, an unrealised billboard project, pseudo advertisements and his typographically arresting micro-stories, Ballard occasionally used the gallery as a laboratory in which to experiment with literary ideas. This strategy can be seen in the early 1970s performance piece he organised in which a stripper named Euphoria Bliss performed a striptease to the reading of a scientific paper. As Ballard says it was “an example of the fusion of science and pornography that The Atrocity Exhibition expected to take place in the near future.” 7 In 1970 Ballard decided to stage an exhibition of crashed cars in order to test a hypothesis he was formulating about the unconscious erotic potential of the car crash. Three mutilated vehicles were displayed like sculptures at the New Arts Laboratory in London and Ballard hired a topless woman to interview visitors. According to Ballard, the response was overwhelmingly negative and the already damaged cars were vandalised. “There was a huge tension in the air,” he says, “as if everyone felt threatened by some inner alarm that had started to ring.” Encouraged by the outrage caused by this exhibition, which Ballard described as “a psychological test disguised as an art show,” the writer began work on his novel, Crash.8 Ballard’s Crash started as an exhibition, then became a novel in 1973. In 2010 it went full circle and became an exhibition again. Crash: Homage to JG Ballard at the Gagosian Gallery in London focused on Ballard as both artist and muse.9 In Crash (the exhibition), Richard Prince’s sculpture Elvis, 2008, a car stripped of all utility and reduced to pure fetish, captured the kinky ethos of the novel perfectly. It may or may not have been made as a direct response to the novel, but Charissa Terranova argues convincingly in her 2014 book, Automotive Prosthetic, that Ballard and Prince share a “technophilic” sensibility. She also provides compelling evidence of the artist’s obsession with the writer, citing the fact that Prince fabricated a 1989 interview between Ballard and himself and then used this fictional exchange as a foundational myth in his own autobiographical story.10 Elsewhere in the show Prince used actual copies of Crash (the novel). Other international artists who have engaged directly with Ballard’s material include Turner prize winner Roger Hiorns, whose copper sulphate encrusted car engines seem to be the product of an unholy union between Ballard’s novels Crash and The Crystal World;11 Ann Lislegaard who has made several videos which respond to sci-fi novels including Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard), 2006; Ed Ruscha who lifted text directly from Crash in his painting Fountain of Crystal, 2009; and Tacita Dean who made a film JG, 2013, inspired by her personal correspondence with Ballard. And many more artists have made works that can be loosely classified as Ballardian, perhaps most notably the American land artist Robert Smithson’s masterpiece, Spiral Jetty, 1970.12
Closer to home, Australian painter Jon Cattapan has made work that has a synergistic relationship with The Drowned World since 1989. I made my first work in response to this novel in 2007, and in 2014 I began an in-depth and sustained investigation into its potential as a creative starting point when I embarked on my PhD. This in turn led to Mapping The Drowned World. Now Roy Ananda, Kate Mitchell, Janet Tavener and Gosia Wlodarczak join the short list of Aussie artists who have engaged with this particular Ballardian vision. Considering the richness of his imagery and the complexity of his ideas it is not surprising that Ballard’s stories have inspired artists. What is surprising is that despite the vast numbers of monographs and essays on his work as a writer, little in-depth research has been done on the direct impact of his fiction on contemporary art. In Mapping The Drowned World, we begin to chart this fertile territory. Tracey Clement
“Ballardian /ˌbælˈaːd n/ adjective: 1. of James Graham Ballard (1930–2009), the British novelist, or his works resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.” “Ballardian,” Collins English Dictionary, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/ballardian.
2 The most infamous and vitriolic review of Ballard’s work is: Duncan Fallowell, “Ballard in Bondage,” review of Ballard’s collection of short stories, Low-Flying Aircraft and Other Stories, Books and Bookmen (1977), 59-60. 3 David Pringle, Earth is the Alien Planet: J. G. Ballard’s Four-Dimensional Nightmare, First ed., The Milford Series: Popular Writers of Today (San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1979), 6. 4 There are too many to mention here. Start with: Jeannette Baxter, J.G. Ballard’s Surrealist Imagination: Spectacular Authorship (Farnham, England; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009.) 5 J.G. Ballard, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton an Autobiography (London: Harper Perennial, 2008), 153-4, 187-8. 6 James Goddard and David Pringle, eds., J.G. Ballard: The First Twenty Years (Hayes: Bran’s Head Books Ltd, 1976), 9. 7 Ballard, Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton an Autobiography, 210. 8
9 Crash was also made in to a film by David Cronenberg in 1996. Crash, the impressive group show, was the second of two major international exhibitions to date which have focused on Ballard. The first, J. G. Ballard: Autòpsia del nou Millenni (J. G. Ballard: Autopsy of the New Millennium), was held just prior to Ballard’s death at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) in 2008. 10 Charissa N. Terranova, “Richard Prince: The Fetish and Automotive Maleficium,” in Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art (Austin,Texas: University of Texas Press, 2014), 241-42. 11 Hiorns somewhat begrudgingly acknowledges the reference to Crash, and he admits, “I did read The Crystal World, but actually some time after I’d started working with crystals.” James Lingwood, “The Impregnation of an Object: Roger Hiorns in Conversation with James Lingwood,” Artangel, http://www.artangel.org.uk//projects/2008/seizure/a_ conversation_with_roger_hiorns/q_a. 12 Finkelstein first made this argument in 1987 but doesn’t provide evidence that Smithson actually read Ballard. Andrew Frost concurs with Finkelstein and corrects this omission. By examining Smithson’s own writing he found that the artist had read specific stories by Ballard. Haim Finkelstein, “Deserts of Vast Eternity: J.G. Ballard and Robert Smithson,” Foundation 39 (1987): 50-82; Andrew Frost, “Science Fictional: The Aesthetics of Science Fiction Beyond the Limits of Genre” (PhD, University of New South Wales, 2013), 87.
NEW MATERIALISM AND THE DROWNED WORLD The New Materialism in Contemporary Art (NMiCA) research cluster was established in 2013 at Sydney College of the Arts. Fostering unique research into non-human perspectives through practice led approaches is a priority of the cluster. Artists contribute in important ways to dialogue within new materialist philosophies through their affinities with matter and materials developed through creative practice. Processes led by matter and the non-human (from the sub-atomic, through to whole entities and systems) are what define interests of the NMiCA cluster members. Tracey Clement is a talented artist and writer whose work exemplifies entangled methods of art practice along with academic inquiry. Clementâ€™s initiative, Mapping The Drowned World, signals an interest in the overlapping perspectives of artists, materials and global super-phenomena such as climate change. Shifts in atmospheric chemistry occur at spatio-temporal scales that humans can barely comprehend, so scientific, political and fantastical narratives on this matter become blurred. Climate change fiction (cli-fi) is an emergent genre in the arts, and like many movements has been pre-empted by literary sages. JG Ballardâ€™s book, from which the exhibition title has been taken, was published in 1962, a time during which the arts began to take a strong interest in the epistemology of science and its logical extensions. During the 1950s climate scientists identified the period of the Great Acceleration, when post-war exuberance led to a vast magnification in human consumption of natural resources and urban development replaced wild landscapes. It does give pause to wonder at this modernist and technophilic world Ballard inhabited and the dystopian future he paints in The Drowned World, a tale in which nature quickly turns against and subsumes humanity. The nature that acts with such unrelenting force upon the fragile structures of civilisation is not given the perspective of a sentient agent in the manner in which we understand as the experience of human subjectivity. Instead, life, death and forces of matter at the scale of galaxies move to their own logic and rhythms which are inevitably alien to the human mind. Here, at this juncture, artists play and inquire as to the liveliness of the apparently inert, such as salt, rust and rock. Through emergent artworks, communicative lines are opened up at human scale, shifting perspectives towards shared understanding with what hitherto might be considered outside our lived worlds. Andrew Lavery and Madeleine Boyd New Materialism in Contemporary Art research cluster
MAPPING THE DROWNED WORLD Coordinated by Tracey Clement 8-31 October 2015 SCA Galleries Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney Balmain Road, Rozelle, NSW Australia
LIST OF WORKS Roy Ananda The Bodkin Experiments, 2015, modified tools and apparatus, found objects, mixed media, multiple elements, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects. Jon Cattapan The City Submerged No. 25, 1991-2015, mixed media on canvas, 30 panels, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Dominik Mersch Gallery. Tracey Clement Post-Premonitionism 2, 2015, salt, rusty steel, cotton, dimensions variable, 36 units, height 80190cm ea. Courtesy: the artist. Kate Mitchell Beyond Setting Suns, 2014, high definition digital video, colour, no sound, 16:9, 40 second loop. Courtesy: the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery. Janet Tavener Broken Surface I-III, 2015, archival prints on Canson Baryta, 90 x 90cm ea. Courtesy: the artist. Gosia Wlodarczak Past As Future, Found in Translation. Interpretation Drawing #6, THE DROWNED WORD 1-10 with instructions for the viewer, 2015, digital photo and drawing collages, 33 x 48.5cm ea, A5 booklets 8 pages ea. Courtesy: the artist, Fehily Contemporary Melbourne, Helen Maxwell, and BoxoPROJECTS New York/Joshua Tree.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Tracey Clement would personally like to thank all of the participating artists for donating their vision, time and energy; Colin Rhodes and Nicholas Tsoutas for recognising the potential of the show; Liam Garstang and the installation team at SCA Galleries; Andrew Lavery and Mikhaela Rodwell for helping to make the catalogue a reality; and Linda Oâ€™Malley for lots of necessary behind-the-scenes things. And she extends special thanks to Peter Burgess, Brad Buckley and Vernon Bowden for their continuing help and support. Mapping The Drowned World was made possible by the generous support of Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) at the University of Sydney, the New Materialism in Cotemporary Art research cluster at SCA and Dominik Mersch Gallery.
Published in Australia in 2015 by Sydney College of the Arts The University of Sydney Balmain Road, Rozelle Locked Bag 15 Rozelle, NSW 2039 +61 2 9351 1104 firstname.lastname@example.org sydney.edu.au/sca Cricos Provider Code: 00026A ÂŠThe University of Sydney 2015. This work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced by any process, nor may any other exclusive right be exercised, without the permission of the copyright owners. Sydney College of the Arts gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the artists and their agents for permission to reproduce their images. Copyright of individual images and texts is retained by the artists and authors (including moral rights). Editor: Tracey Clement. Authors: Tracey Clement, Roy Ananda, Jon Cattapan, Kate Mitchell, Janet Tavener, Gosia Wlodarczak, Colin Rhodes, Andrew Lavery and Madeleine Boyd. Designer: Katie Sorrenson. ISBN: 978-1-921558-07-8
This is an online version of the catalogue from an exhibition of the same name, coordinated by Tracey Clement. JG Ballard's second novel, '...
Published on Oct 7, 2015
This is an online version of the catalogue from an exhibition of the same name, coordinated by Tracey Clement. JG Ballard's second novel, '...