Crash a Homage to JG Ballard at the Gargosian Gallery
6-24 Britannia Street , London
11th February – 1st April.
“For a writer, death is always a career move.”
This is a very comprehensive and brilliantly curated exhibition in response to and in homage to the outstanding work of short story and fiction writer JG. Ballard. It hosts the works of artists spanning from the Surrealist Movement the likes of Man Ray and the exquiste Salvador Dali. It links younger Contemporary British Artist Tacita Dean and Jane and Louise Wilson with American Artists from the 40’s and 50’s with paintings by the brilliant Edward Hopper. Contemporaries of JG. Ballard working in the 60’s and 70’s are represented with pieces by Warhol and Jeff Koons, and Richard Hamilton.
This exhibiton takes its title from the novel Crash first published in 1973 which at the time quickly attained cult status and is still a classic amongst underground literature. The protagonist also called Ballard teams up with Vaughan, a ‘pathalogical’ cinematographer who is obsessed with the violent and psychosexuality of car crashes, celebrity car crashes in particular which he intends to reenact, think of Kennedy, and James Dean and Jayne Mansfield.
For JG. Ballard the car in this novel symbolised not only the sexual image but also the ever increasing mechanisation of the world, man’s self destructive drive in pursuit of technology signalling disasterous outcomes for the future.
Crash was the inspiration for a movie by David Cronenberg in 1996 nearly a quarter of a century later. The Characters move through this eloquent film in seemingly surreal almost dreamlike spaces , the tempo and look of the film is cool and dispassionate, yet you can almost smell the engine grease , touch the chrome and vinyl and Holly Hunter playing Dr. Helen Remington is mesmerisingly sexy. The film merges eroticism and the power felt through the identification with one’s car when driving. Ballard and likewise Cronenberg suck you into this fictitious journey that is exciting and terrifying and has one suspended in disbelief and momentarily ambivalence in the face of violence and destruction.
All takes place in the deprived modern spaces of industrial wastelands, car parks and the soulless interiors of modern skyscrapers. Some of us look upon such scapes as aesthetically beautiful when we oversee and view our environs today. Fetishes and repressed sexual impulses that were as bizarre as they were shocking in 1971 when the film first came out, are no longer considered as such and have for better or worse integrated as part of everyday reality in 2010.
Being an admirer of the book and its author and of Cronenberg’s controversial adaptation of Crash, I was truly excited about stepping into this exhibition.
It highlights artists that inspired JG Ballard himself like Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux who’s paintings he had reproduced and which hung in his study in Shepperdon where JG Ballard lived. The show includes artists who in return were influenced and inspired by JC Ballard’s imaginative surreal writings, and produced visual work of a post apocalyptic dystopic nature.
On entry, to the exhibition the painting with the words sex + technology = the future, a statement by Ballard and translated into painting by Loris Greaud next to Chris Burdens oversized policeman’s uniform set the tone, if you look up engraved above the lintel of the door to Gallery 1 are the words ‘we are all going to die” and then one is face to face with Richard Price’ ‘Elvis’ and Roger Hiorns crystallized engine parts which soon got me back into the remembering the significance of the car in the novel.
Helmut Newton’s slick erotic female photographic studies clad in steel clamps and back braces and prosthetic paraphernalia. Damian Hirst’s gruesome installation involving surgical instruments and post accident photograph of a plane crash victim, is not for the squeamish and then Cindy Sherman’s photographs of sinister deformed mechanical female disembodiments are referencing a drawing by surrealist Hans Bellmer also in the show.
Elements of the novel appeared in the bleak post modern landscapes of Cyprian Gaillards, View of Sighthill Cemetery, Dan Holdsworth and Florian Maier-Aichen’s photographic prints of a broken highways and Jane and Louise detritus of abandoned factories. This is just to name a few of the contemporary artist whose work reflects a ‘ballardian’ condition in this exhibition.
Will Self in the introduction to the catalogue writes about how: “…. insidiously in the preceding five decades, the Ballardian had become the commonplace. Ballard may have started out as a science fiction writer, but his texts now read as social fact.”
Our western globalising society has sped from a mechanical age of 30 years ago to a post industrial world and into the world of surfaces and networks and gross capitalism see Paul McCarthy’s disturbing piece in Gallery 2 of the Exhibition. Ballard was well aware of this and expressed his interpretations on it in his later novels Super Cannes and Cocaine Nights.
This exhibition affords a look back on a not so distant era, in a present that still inhabits many elements of the industrial age, that are still with us today both in physical form and psychological outlook.
On my way out of this grand space I am held between Chris Burden’s small photograph of the small figure of a man shooting at an aeroplane passing in the sky, and the enormous life size and real undercarriage of an aeroplane ripped from it’s body this implies contrast and futility in the face of ‘the big machinery’ but it has obviously crashed and one is left wondering about the whereabouts of the pilot and its passengers.
JC Ballard died in April 2009, and this exhibition has highlighted how very influential and of great cultural significance his work is. It has inspired me to read and re read his many writings.
The exhibition is well worth a second visit by myself, and I highly recommend it.
For fans of the ‘Ballardian’ check out this website: