Coz We Like It Like That


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


Off screen


“Toward the end of the film, the hero (Robert Duvall) attempts to escape from his underworld city (called, in the title of the student version of the film done by Lucas at the University of Southern California, an “Electronic Labyrinth”). It is an escape which will bring him finally to a huge ventilation shaft and from there into real daylight for the first time. On the way he breaks into a video monitor room, annex of the central computer bank, and in an act of ultimate counter-acculturation takes the controls himself. He punches out the necessary code and then focuses in on a full-screen shot of the bottled fetus to which his just-dead mate’s ID number has been reassigned. Too long trapped in this encaved prison house of images himself, he cannot help but read this last image—the only one he has chosen for himself to call up, the one that makes visible to him the end of what human place he could claim in this subterranean world—cannot help but read this fetal image, or at least we can’t help but read it for him, as a symbol. The hero will become now in his own shaved person just such a newborn identity, out the long tunnel into the light. In escaping from the actual detention center a few scenes before, the prison within the prison—an overexposed sterile space bled of color and without discernible walls or angles, as if it were the two-dimensional space of his own video-monitored entrapment on an engulfing white screen—he is led out by a fugitive hologram, no less. This video refugee, one of the figures nightly used to pacify the masses, is a mirage tired of being ensnared in his monotonous digital circuit and aching to break free into bodied reality. When asked by the hero for the direction out, he points straight off the screen into the camera and so at us, at a palpable world elsewhere, the world itself…”

Garrett Stewart, “Videology.” Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction Film. George Slusser & Eric S. Rabin eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1985. p 176.

Merely Local


“Frank Lloyd Wrights Marin Civic Center was the headquarters for the Gattaca corporation in Gattaca and also featured in George Lucas’ THX-1138. In THX-1138, this was merely a conveniently local piece of architecture that looked like a contemporary vision of the future, rather like the Texas modernism in Logan’s Run. In Gattaca, this building fitted the overall consciously retro-futuristic style.”

15 scifi movies 15 famous architectural locations

“Science Fiction Movies and famous architecture have a particularly strong tradition, however the link is not always flattering. Since much science fiction deals with a dystopic vision of the future, architecture is often seen as part of the environmental cause, from Philadelphia’s abandoned, alienating, solitary confinement based, Quaker prison in 12 Monkeys to the architectural brutalism of Brunel University in the literally brutal Clockwork Orange…”

No such thing

“When I went to do Star Wars, the real challenge was that I wanted to make a much more active film [than 2001] – which meant more shots, more cutting, more movement, more work. It had never been done before. I looked at this story I wanted to do, and said to myself: ‘Well, can I make this movie? How am I going to do this?’ And being young I responded: ‘Well, sure. I’ll figure out how to do it.’ At school I had a lot of experience in animation and that sort of thing, so I had a vague idea of how to approach some of this stuff from my animation background. Also, I had worked as a camerman and as an editor. I thought: ‘I think I know how to put this together.”


“It was a bit like my first film, THX 1138. Walter Murch and I had to present it to the studio, and we put together this presentation showing that it was going to be a futuristic and outlining how we were going to be shooting it on location and such. And we put in there that we were going to develop this very unusual reality using ‘rotary-cam’ photography. We said: ‘That sounds good. Let’s put that in there.’ Fortunately, nobody at the studio asked what it was – because it was nothing. There was no such thing as rotary-cam photography. We thought it would make them believe that we could create this whole world with some wonderful new technique, when all we were going to do was shoot on locations and overexpose a lot.”

Don Shay, “30 Minutes with the Godfather of Digital Cinema”, Cinefex #65. March 1996. p. 58.

Symmetrical Reality

Virilio: To start with, the simulator is an object in itself, which is different from televison and leads to cyberspace. The US Air Force flight simulator – the first sophisticated simulators were created by the US Air Force – has been used in order to save gas on real flights by training pilots on the ground. Thus there is a cyberspace vision: one doesn’t fly in real space, one creates a poor cyberspace, with headphones, etc…it is a different logic. In a way, the simulator is closer to cyberspace than televison. It creates a different world. So, of course, the simulator quickly became a simulator of accidents, but not only that: it started simulating actual flight hours, and these hours have been counted as real hours to evaluate the experience of pilots. Simulated flight hours and real flight hours became equivalent, and this was cyberspace, not the accident but something else, or rather the accident of reality. What is accidented is reality. Virtuality will destroy reality. So, it’s some kind of accident, but an accident of a very different nature. The accident is not the accident. For instance, if I let this glass fall, is it an accident? No, it’s the reality of the glass that is accidented, not the glass itself. The glass is certainly broken and no longer exists, but with a flight simulator, what is accidented is the reality of the glass, and not the glass itself: what is accidented is the reality of the whole world. Cyberspace is an accident of the real. Virtual reality is the accident of reality itself.


But then simulation doesn’t really pretend to be the glass?

Virilio: This is a little hard to explain. We have a sense of reality which is sustained by a physical sensation. Right now, I am holding a bottle: this is reality. With a data glove, I could hold a virtual bottle. Cybersex is similar: it is an accident of sexual reality, perhaps the most extraordinary accident, but still an accident. I would be tempted to say: the accident is shifting. It no longer occurs in matter, but in light or in images. A Cyberspace is a light-show. Thus, the accident is in light, not in matter. The creation of a virtual image is a form of accident. This explains why virtual reality is a cosmic accident. It’s the accident of the real.

I disagree with my friend Baudrillard on the subject of simulation. To the word simulation, I prefer the one substitution. This is a real glass, this is no simulation. When I hold a virtual glass with a data glove, this is no simulation, but substitution. Here lies the big difference between Baudrillard and myself: I don’t believe in simulationism, I believe that the word is already old-fashioned. As I see it, new technologies are substituting a virtual reality for an actual reality. And this is more than a phase: it’s a definite change. We are entering a world where there won’t be one but two realities, just like we have two eyes or hear bass and treble tones, just like we now have stereoscopy and stereophony: there will be two realities: the actual, and the virtual. Thus there is no simulation, but substitution. Reality has become symmetrical. The splitting of reality in two parts is a considerable event which goes far beyond simulation.

Cyberwar, God And Television: Interview with Paul Virilio