Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ballardian Architecture: Inner and Outer Space

Back in May the Royal Academy of Arts held a symposium entitled Ballardian Architecture: Inner and Outer Space. I was incredibly disappointed not to be able to attend so I was particularly pleased when, in addition to the mp3s available above, videos of the event were posted by static tv on behalf of The London Consortium.

As indicated by the title of the symposium, each of the lectures are broadly structured around the distinction between the inner and outer operative in the fiction of the late British writer J.G. Ballard. What many of these discussions emphasise in their exploration of Ballard's work is the permeability of those barriers and thresholds ordinarily supposed to mark that distinction in each of its many guises.

By way of example we might consider the violent short circuiting of the libidinal economy of the individual and functioning of the capitalist market economy affected by the penetration of the skin by twisted metal staged by the auto 'accident' in Crash.

Below I offer a selection of the lectures that I found most interesting.

In the first discussion philosopher John Gray draws on Ballard's interest in celebrity culture and surveillance to pose the question as to whether we can expect there to be genuinely public spaces anymore. Gray explores the implications for political economy by way of a comparison with Guy Debord's theorisation of the spectacle in his 1967 book Society of the Spectacle.

In this second lecture the Bartlett's Nic Clear delivers his paper 'J.G. Ballard is an Enemy of the Architectural Profession'. Developing themes explored earlier in the issue of Architectural Design that he guest edited back in 2009, the lecture is offered as an exploration of new modes of architectural representation that are intended, in this case via the writings of Ballard, to stage an encounter between the architectural discipline and its outside.

An earlier interview outlining the development of this project, and featuring videos produced by his students in the course of his Ballard inspired 2007-08 programme for the Bartlett's Unit 15, can be found on the Ballardian website here.

In David Cunningham's presentation he compares Ballard's writing on space and place with those of his friend Iain Sinclair and the Anglo-German writer W. G. Sebald. In doing so he argues that, contrary to the "hunger for memory and place" of Sinclair and Sebald's writings, Ballard's provide a "profoundly urban, no-turning-back aesthetic of futurism and rawness", embodied in the architecture of Brutalism and the new forms of social interaction it might seem to promote.

The end of session panel discussion above features Gray, Clear and Cunningham answering questions from the floor on the subjects of time, the uncanny, sentimentality and social networking.

Chris Hall was one of the first online writers to discuss Ballard's work in his essay 'Extreme Metaphor: A Crash Course In The Fiction Of JG Ballard'. In this discussion Hall uses a reading of 'The Terminal Beach' to explore Ballard's use of particular types of architectural structures as metaphors for those aspects of ourselves that we try to repress. In doing so he develops the psychogeographic themes in Ballard's writings hinted at in Cunningham's discussion.

The lecture by British photographer Dan Holdsworth departs from the format of critical appreciation established by the speakers above. Having participated in the Crash: Homage to JG Ballard exhibition at the Gagosian gallery the previous month, Holdsworth reads passages from Ballard's works that resonate with the sparse and sometimes inhuman images suggested he captures through long exposure photography.

The closing speech of the symposium was made by Ballard's long term partner Claire Walsh. Naturally this offers a fascinating glimpse into the authors private life and the more guarded facets of his character.

The full set of videos can be found on the static tv while recordings of the sessions are available on the Royal Academy of Arts site here.

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