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Ann Lislegaard: 'Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard)'

Author: • Dec 12th, 2008 •

Category: animation, Ballardosphere, entropy, enviro-disaster, Fredric Jameson, science fiction, visual art

‘Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard)’, screening at Autopsy of the New Millennium, Barcelona. Photos: Simon Sellars.

For you, I have unearthed a trove of information about ‘Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard)’, Ann Lislegaard’s digital interpretation of Ballard’s novel. Recall that in my Barcelona report, I raved about it — as an undisputed highlight in an already outstanding exhibition.

The Light Project in St Louis, USA, recently staged this work as part of a series of site-specific commissions that illuminated the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts at Grand Center in St Louis, USA. By all accounts, the show was a great success and I only wish I could have seen this mesmerising work projected onto urban space; the Light Project has archived photos and background information of the setup and subsequent audience reactions, and there’s an interview with Ann, in which she discusses Ballard and the inspiration she drew from the book. (Also available are sound bites from the interview.)

Ballardian: Ann Lislegaard

Ann Lislegaard preparing the Light Project staging of her work, ‘Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard)’.

I fully agree with her view of the novel: it’s a ‘mental space, a state of mind’, and that is really emphasised by her iterative work, which constantly chases its own tail. It’s shown on two screens, side by side, and takes place inside a modernist hotel which residually succumbs to the crystallising process described in the novel. Scenes loop back and subsequently fade and buckle from screen to screen under supersaturation of light, forcing you to constantly question the veracity of what’s come before, and where you are in the loop. Mirror images from one screen to another split off into parallel worlds/scenes, the same but not quite. It’s simply beautiful.

From the Light Project interview with Ann:

ROBIN CLARK: What is it about this text that inspired you to create your installation?

ANN LISLEGAARD: I was fascinated by the scenario, by the jungle location, and by the notion of a place in a constant state of transformation. Ballard is very much a conceptual writer and I think his idea for this novel is related to entropy, since the crystals are completely taking over, creating a sameness, a sort of all encompassing world of light and mirrors. Also, I see the Crystal World as a mental space, a state of mind.

RC: In different ways, the novel and your installation both circle around the idea of light as medium, as a scientific phenomenon that also has psychological and conceptual aspects. How are you using light as a material in Crystal World?

AL: I’ve worked with light in my sound installations, but light has never been the subject matter itself. In the past I always used light as an element in relationship to ideas of space, narrative and gender. Crystal World plays with the notion of too much light. The crystallization of the environment is expressed through light that becomes so bright that it bleaches out and creates its own kind of blindness.

If you’d like a feel for the piece, watch the video above — I don’t know much about its providence, except that it was uploaded to blip.tv and is described thus: ‘Backstage footage from Ann Lislegaard’s “Crystal World” at SMK, Copenhagen 20.03.2007. Condensed and dreamy, electronic soundtrack from un escargot vide’. Now, while this footage is low quality and hard to make out, it does give you a sense of the incredible, dislocating sense of perpetual motion that Ann achieves through her work. But I really don’t think that soundtrack is part of the original piece — I saw it at Barcelona in complete silence, and in my opinion it was much, much more powerful that way for obvious reasons to do with the psychological autonomy of interior, inner space etc etc. For a taste of that experience, follow this link for a four-minute excerpt of the work over at New York Magazine (sneaky NY Mag have encoded the vid in such a way that I can’t rip it and embed it here on Ballardian, so a link will have to do).

Ballardian: Ann Lislegaard

Lislegaard’s Left-Hand of Darkness. Photo courtesy Murray Guy.

Ann recently staged a visualisation of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, along with ‘Crystal World’, at Murray Guy in New York. This ended today, sadly, but hopefully both works will exhibit again in the near future.

From Murray Guy:

“Murray Guy is pleased to present two major digital animations by Ann Lislegaard: Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard), 2006 and Left Hand of Darkness (after Ursula K. Le Guin), 2008. These works comprise the second and third parts of a trilogy of 3D animations based on science fiction novels that began with Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany), exhibited at Murray Guy in 2005.

This trilogy continues Lislegaard’s longstanding investigation into spatial perception and cognition and, in particular, divergent forms of narrative. She draws here on science fiction not to illustrate its imaginative content but rather, as Frederic Jameson articulates it, because of science fiction’s potential to provide “something like an experimental variation on our empirical universe.” The works reference modernism and historical visions of the future to reflect on our present triangulation of space and knowledge and temporality; as a whole, they comprise a far-reaching investigation into the structuring of cognition in the digital age.

Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard) is a looping double screen animation showing a modernist glass hotel in a tropical jungle that is slowly invaded by crystalline growth. Text drawn from Ballard’s 1966 novel, which describes a viral crystal found deep in the rainforest that petrifies all organic matter, mingles intermittently with shifting digital images of shadows and the jungle seen from vague interior spaces. Taking the glass house as conceit for a modernist structuring of knowledge, Lislegaard’s animation directly references the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi’s 1951 Glass House, and the work of Robert Smithson and Eva Hesse, who investigated crystalline and organic structures as a means of articulating nonlinear time.

Set in a similarly extreme climate, Left Hand of Darkness (After Ursula K. LeGuin) is a three-channel projection that draws on LeGuin’s 1969 novel describing an icy planet populated by a single sex of androgynous humanoids. Pages of the novel are inscribed on top of another and rotoscopic images spin next to drawings of male and female genitalia. Here identity and behavior seem at once both paralyzed and in a state of constant flux; the novel’s radical re-imagining of gender is inscribed in a fluid space between cinema, architecture and writing. As in The Crystal World, Lislegaard works to reconfigure polarities—between interiority and exteriority, male and female, organic and inorganic—in an explosively horizontal digital terrain, where nothing aligns as we would expect.

Ann Lislegaard lives and works between Copenhagen and New York. Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard) was recently on view as an outdoor installation in The Light Project at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis, and was originally commissioned for 27th Bienal de São Paulo in 2006. Lislegaard has had numerous solo museum exhibitions, including presentations at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway (2007); Statens Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark (2007); Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2004); Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland (2002); and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (1999), among others. She represented Denmark at the 51st Bienniale di Venezia in 2005 and will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle opening in May 2009.”

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  1. [...] based on and named after J. G. Ballard’s sci-fi novel The Crystal World. Simon Sellars on the Ballardian website says: “I fully agree with her (Lislegaard’s) view of the novel: it’s a ‘mental space, a [...]

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