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Flaunting Conventions: Paolozzi, Ballard and BaxAuthor: David Brittain • Jan 29th, 2011 •
Poster from the IG exhibition, Parallel of Art and Life, co-designed by Paolozzi in 1953.
On Friday 18th February, from 10am-5.30pm, the one-day conference ‘Eduardo Paolozzi Re-readings’ will be held at the Visual Culture Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University. The conference will coincide with a Paolozzi exhibition at the MMU’s Holden Gallery.
According to the press release:
“The conference will shed new light on the graphic works of Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005). The conference seeks to make a significant contribution to the reappraisal of this seminal artist/co-founder of the Independent Group. His work was included in two recent major exhibitions, “Eduardo Paolozzi: The Jet Age Compendium” at Raven Row, London (2009) and “CRASH: Homage to JG Ballard” at the Gagosian, London (2010).
The conference findings will supplement an exhibition by Paolozzi at the Holden Gallery at MMU (Feb 13-March 13). Paolozzi’s edition, GENERAL DYMANIC F.U.N. (1970), comprises 50 screen prints and photolithographs and is introduced by his friend and collaborator, J.G. Ballard. On publication, this work was welcomed as Pop Art, but through Ballard’s eyes it was closely related to his own literary project that sought to analyze the media landscape for its libidinous content. Taking the metaphor of re-reading, speakers will reconsider Paolozzi’s work from a variety of points of view, including the significance of his collaboration with Ballard.
The list of provisional speakers is:
* Professor Jim Aulich; David Brittain; Professor Allen Fisher; Dr Crista-Maria Lerm Hayes; Carol Huston; Joanne Murray; Jon Oberlander; Dr John Sears
The one-day conference concludes with a personal tour of the exhibition, GENERAL DYNAMIC F.U.N. by the eminent art historian Robin Spencer. He is editor of “Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews”, and worked very closely with the artist on the creation of the Krazy Kat Arkive, currently situated at the Victoria & Albert Museum.”
More information here.
To promote the event, conference organiser David Brittain has kindly allowed us to publish excerpts from his excellent essay on Paolozzi, Ballard and Ambit, included in The Jet Age Compendium: Paolozzi at Ambit.
Extracts from ‘Eduardo Paolozzi at Ambit’ by David Brittain from The Jet Age Compendium: Paolozzi at Ambit (Four Corners Books, 2009)
It would seem that Ballard and Martin Bax recruited Paolozzi into the editorial team of AMBIT as a fellow traveller and surrealist. Ballard had been an admirer of Paolozzi’s work since the early 50s and they had long shared many of the same interests, obsessions and themes. Both were interested in science and were proud to identify with the new generation of producer/consumers that Susan Sontag described as “against interpretation”. Like Paolozzi’s art works, Ballard’s writing style (an intoxicating goulash of literary prose and scientific jargon) was indebted to surrealist collage. Each was attracted to the apocalyptic: Ballard’s early “catastrophe” novels foretold the end of civilisation by unstoppable natural or man-made forces, while the hulking half-man, half-machine sculptures of Paolozzi reminded Ballard of “survivors of a nuclear war.” As a novice writer Ballard had visited Independent Group (IG) shows including This is Tomorrow, the famous 1956 group exhibition at the Whitechapel in London. Now recognised as a milestone in the emergence of Pop art, this event became the most popular and critically acclaimed manifestation of the work and ideas of the various members of the IG.
Cover of Ambit #50, 1972 – Bax standing with Ballard and Paolozzi (third and fourth from right).
Paolozzi and Ballard in the Imperial War Museum, 1971.
Richard Hamilton contributed his collage Just What Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Good. Paolozzi teamed up with Nigel Henderson and Peter and Alison Smithson to construct “The Patio and Pavilion” that was described in the catalogue as “a habitat for symbolic of human needs – space, shelter, and privacy…”, a description which suggests analogies between Paolozzi’s art and the post-catastrophe landscapes from Ballard’s early fiction. Ballard recalls: “a terminal hut stood on a patch of sand, on which were laid out the basic implements that modern man would need to survive: a power tool, a bicycle wheel and a pistol.” It was this exhibition that convinced Ballard that writers were falling behind artists in their recognition of the impact of science on everyday life and he resolved to write fiction along the same lines. Paolozzi, whom Ballard respected for adapting early avant-garde insights to the contemporary scene, was the only “visual writer” in this inner space clique. Ballard placed him within “a tradition of imaginative response to science and technology” that included H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Salvador Dali and William Burroughs.
By the mid 70s, Ballard’s influence on AMBIT was at its height; the tone of AMBIT no 63 is set by descriptions of bizarre scenes of violence taken from the forthcoming novel, High Rise. The novelist’s “apocalyptic vision” and his determination to entangle AMBIT in controversy informs the collaboration between Bax and Paolozzi. Published in 1975, and timed to coincide with the ending of the war, “The Vietnam Symphony” comprised text by Martin Bax; grids of images, many sourced from Moonstrips Empire News, were supplied by Paolozzi. Paolozzi’s decision to juxtapose jingoistic images of smiling politicians with suffering war victims is a visual analogue of Ballard’s grand theme of the real as a perverse fiction.
Print from Paolozzi’s Moonstrips Empire News, 1963.
Paolozzi’s contributions to AMBIT were consistent with its anti-war spirit, yet his attitude to America was ambivalent. At the time he was visiting regularly in the role of lecturer at the University of California (1968), and in his youthful advocacy of popular culture, had seemed to be pro-American but now Paolozzi began to express doubts to friends. Ballard recalls that: “His early fascination with all things American rather faded after his teaching trip to Berkeley in the late 60s.”
For Paolozzi, AMBIT stood for values and principles he held in common with his peers and supporters that were political and ethical as well as artistic. His closest collaborators were Ballard and Bax with whom he occupied the inner circle of AMBIT’s decision-making alongside art director Michael Foreman. Back issues of AMBIT offer ample evidence that the magazine was the setting for a shared vision that united these three friends and collaborators, and that enabled them to complete each other in some ways. Just as Paolozzi’s collages elaborated themes of inner space, so Ballard’s polemical texts, about science and art, gave the artist’s work a contemporary theoretical underpinning. Meanwhile, Paolozzi’s “language games” gave meaning and purpose to Bax’s flaunting of literary conventions.
Two prints from Paolozzi’s General Dynamic F.U.N. series (1970).
Paolozzi’s cover for Ambit #40, 1969.
..:: Previously on Ballardian:
+ “Ambiguous aims”: a review of Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard [NSFW]
Newer: Fulfillment in a time of nihilism: John Gray and J.G. Ballard »