Coz We Like It Like That

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Hans Ulrich Obrist: In 1971 you also said, “Violence is probably going to play the same role in the ’70s and ’80s that sex played in the ’50s and ’60s. There’s what I call in my book The Atrocity Exhibition the ‘death of feeling,’ that one is more and more alienated from any kind of direct response to experience. And the car crash is probably the only act of violence most of us in Western Europe are ever going to be involved with, is probably the most dramatic event in our lives apart from our own deaths, and in many cases the two are going to coincide. What do you think of that statement retrospectively? What about now?

JG Ballard: Violence does seem to play a dominant role in our imaginations, perhaps for good reasons: a symptom of our need to break down the suffocating conventions that rule our lives. Human beings today display a deep and restless violence, which no longer channels itself into wars but has to emerge in road rage, Internet porn, contact sports like hyper-violent professional rugby and U.S. football, reality TV, and so on.

HUO: In this same interview of 1971, there is an almost unbelievable statement that you make. You said, “I think that the biggest need of the painter or writer today is information. I’d love to have a tickertape machine in my study constantly churning out material: abstracts from scientific journals, the latest Hollywood gossip, the passenger list of a 707 that crashed in the Andes, the color mixes of a new automobile varnish. In fact, Eduardo [Paolozzi] and I in our different ways are already gathering this kind of information but we are using the clumsiest possible tool to do it: our own hands and eyes. The technology of the information-retrieval system that we enjoy is incredibly primitive. ” It’s really a premonition of the Internet! So now, do you think it changed the way artists and writers look at and interact with the world?

JGB: Yes, it was a premonition of the Internet, which I relish for the unlimited information it provides, and the unlimited possibilities. Large sections of it strike me as remarkably poetic. It may turn out to be more important and more innovative than television. It’s a kind of collective lucid dreaming.

HUO: What do you find of specific interest in works made by young visual artists today? And what is your opinion on contemporary literature?

JGB: I take a keen interest in what today’s painters and sculptors are doing. On the whole, my views coincide with those of the great Brian Sewell, but I see the young British artists of the past ten years or so from a different perspective. They find themselves in a world totally dominated by advertising, by a corrupt politics carried out as a branch of advertising, and by a reality that is a total fiction controlled by manufacturers, PR firms, and vast entertainment and media corporations. Nothing is real, everything is fake. Bizarrely, most people like it that way. So in their installations and conceptual works, the young artists are rebelling against this all-dominant adman’s media-landscape. They are trying to establish a new truth about what an unmade bed is, what a dead animal is, and so on. Our mistake is to judge them by aesthetic criteria. By contrast, the novel resists innovation, and is much closer to the TV domestic serial.

Boutoux, Thomas, ed. Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews Volume 1. Milan: Edizioni Charta. 2003. pp 62-63.

Image: David Pelham’s classic 1977 cover for Ballard short story collection, via The Art of Penguin Science Fiction

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