J G Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition,1970

j g ballard-atrocity exhibition
Apocalypse. A disquieting feature of this annual exhibition — to which the patients themselves were not invited — was the marked preoccupation of the paintings with the theme of world cataclysm, as if these long-incarcerated patients had sensed some seismic upheaval within the minds of their doctors and nurses. As Catherine Austin walked around the converted gymnasium these bizarre images, with their fusion of Eniwetok and Luna Park, Freud and Elizabeth Taylor, reminded her of the slides of exposed spinal levels in Travis’s office. They hung on the enamelled walls like the codes of insoluble dreams, the keys to a nightmare in which she had begun to play a more willing and calculated role. Primly she buttoned her white coat as Dr. Nathan approached, holding his gold-tipped cigarette to one nostril ‘ Ah, Dr Austin . . . What do you think of them? I see there’s War in Hell.
The Atrocity Exhibition. Entering the exhibition, Travis sees the atrocities of Vietnam and the Congo mimetized in the ‘alternate’ death of Elizabeth Taylor; he tends the dying film star, erotizing her punctured bronchus in the over ventilated verandas of the London Hilton; he dreams of Max Ernst, superior of the birds; ‘Europe after the Rain’; the human race – Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit.
J.G. Ballard, 1930-2009.          The Atrocity Exhibition,1970, Chapetr I
 J.G. Ballard’s ‘condensed novel’ is his most complex, disturbing work, with  photographs by Ana Barrado and artwork by Phoebe Gloeckner.

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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