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Flaunting Conventions: Paolozzi, Ballard and Bax

Author: • Jan 29th, 2011 •

Category: academia, Ambit magazine, Eduardo Paolozzi, features, Lead Story, visual art

Eduardo Paolozzi

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.

Eduardo Paolozzi

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.

Eduardo Paolozzi

Cover of Ambit #50, 1972 – Bax standing with Ballard and Paolozzi (third and fourth from right).

Eduardo Paolozzi

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.

Eduardo Paolozzi

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.

Eduardo Paolozzi

Two prints from Paolozzi’s General Dynamic F.U.N. series (1970).

Eduardo Paolozzi

Paolozzi’s cover for Ambit #40, 1969.

..:: Previously on Ballardian:
+ “Ambiguous aims”: a review of Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard [NSFW]

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21 Responses »

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Simon Sellars, Simon Sellars. Simon Sellars said: New post: David Brittain explores the relationship between Ballard, Eduardo Paolozzi and Ambit maagzine's Martin Bax: http://bit.ly/f9OZUW […]

  2. I like the photo captioned:”Paolozzi and Ballard in the Imperial War Museum, 1971.” It’s not widely known. Does anyone have any back-story to that? Why were they at the Imperial War Museum together?

    Does it come from the book _Jet-Age Compendium_? I haven’t actually seen that. Or was it first published in some issue of _Ambit_ I missed?

  3. The picture is shown in the Jet-Age Compendium where it’s printed in blue on green paper. The most likely source for the image is Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews, edited by Robin Spencer (OUP, 2000), where it accompanies the text of “Speculative Illustrations: Eduardo Paolozzi in Conversation with J.G. Ballard and Frank Whitford” — originally published in Studio International no. 193, October 1971. I haven’t seen that issue of the magazine for many years, but I think the picture originally appeared there. The photo is in the Paolozzi Archive, Dean Gallery, Edinburgh.

  4. ”this is tomorrow”

    many thanks to david brittain. one cannot say enough about eduardo paolozzi, ballard, dr bax, and AMBIT.
    US publishers, even those who claim to be subversive, had mostly ignored the great paolozzi since he didn’t have enough celebrityhood for them, and didn’t make it onto their personal but very predictable “who is cool” lists. The less conformist artists have found that daring to disagree with the list makers means being crossed off with a big red pen: big fucking deal. AMBIT was shattering windows and comfortable pseudo-subversion, with these men and others at the masthead, while so-called hipster publishers in the US were still trying to figure out how the old form of rock fit into their definition of “modern art.” The ones who finally got it saw rather quickly that punk would be the bastard child, and would not need or seek the approval of those in charge: we would vomit on their pretentious panels and fart loudly at their ponderous lectures, and like the shits that some still are, for continuing to rewrite history according to their own snide, one-sided views, inflating their own importance; but, they’re starting to find the kids aren’t having it. all hail the interweb. all read The Hospital Ship.

    when i was first peddling my short fiction in San Francisco, i couldn’t get the time of day from any of these too cool for their own good cliques, and it took the forward looking EU magazines with AMBIT in the lead to wise up the marks. i am forever grateful to dr. bax and AMBIT for publishing my first short fiction, and thankful to INTERZONE too, for feeding my mind.

    so, good job mr. brittain for opening the gate, and i implore you: more eduardo paolozzi (much more) and j. g. ballad, and dr martin bax (i know there are amazing stories there amongst these men who understood what artistic friendship is all about), and more on the great AMBIT itself which never lost its integrity, and continues to surprise and thrill those who are looking to be inspired and challenged.

  5. Re. that photo. Yes, it’s in the separate introductory booklet for the “Jet Age Compendium”, but with no further details. That booklet also has a photo of Paolozzi and Ballard staring at an exhibit of an astronaut’s suit, also without any further info.

    I have a copy of the original issue of Studio International, and the Imperial War Museum is NOT included there. However, the astronaut photo is there, and it’s described as “Eduardo Paolozzi, J. G. Ballard and Apollo Space Suit in the Science Museum, Kensington”.

    Were they doing a round-trip of London museums?!

  6. In Robin Spencer’s Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews (2000) the caption simply reads “Paolozzi with J.G. Ballard in the Imperial War Museum, London, 1971” — more or less the same as David Brittain’s later caption above. Spencer’s book is a definitive reference work for any Paolozzi scholar and Brittain acknowledges it as the “spark” for his own project. The book is the only place I can recall having seen the picture until it popped up again in Jet-Age Compendium, but perhaps others know of other places where it has appeared.

    Spencer’s source for the picture is Paolozzi’s archive at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, as I mentioned. This wonderful resource houses photographs from Paolozzi’s collection as well as books, magazines and other materials. It looks like Spencer must have found it there in the course of his enormously thorough research on the book.

  7. An earlier article about Ambit by David Brittain published in Eye no. 65 in 2007, and available online, might also be of interest:


  8. Rick P and Mike H — thanks for your informative replies to my query!

    Mike, since you have a copy of the original magazine from 1971, is there any chance of a scan of that “Eduardo Paolozzi, J. G. Ballard and Apollo Space Suit in the Science Museum, Kensington” photograph? It sounds as though it makes a pair with the Imperial War Museum photo that Simon has reproduced above.

    “Were they doing a round-trip of London museums?” you ask. Well, it seems rather as though they were — museums of science, technology and war, at any rate.

  9. Simon: I’ve just re-read David Brittain’s piece. Something was niggling at me. It’s the title, which you’ve taken from a phrase in Brittain’s text: “Paolozzi’s ‘language games’ gave meaning and purpose to Bax’s flaunting of literary conventions.”

    Was Bax “flaunting” literary conventions — or flouting them? Surely the latter.

  10. David P. – since ‘flaunting’ was in David B.’s original text, I’m going to take it as read – unless he comes to the thread and says otherwise! Anyway, surely there’s a case to be made for each of Paolozzi, Ballard and Bax deliberately, garishly displaying the worst excesses of convention in order to provoke a reaction – isn’t that what Crash does, especially when placed against the deliberate formal experimentation of Atrocity?

    But over to David B. …

  11. David P. – I’ll email you the Apollo space suit photo, with copy to Simon for his store of pics.

  12. Thanks, Mike H — scan of that Science Museum photo of JGB and EP now received. I’d say Ballard is pretty certainly wearing the same check jacket (with tie) in both photos, and he looks much the same (sideburns, etc.), so there’s a possibility that the two snaps were taken on the same day in 1971 — at the Science Museum in South Kensington, and at the Imperial War Museum in Southwark. If not the same day, then around the same time. What _were_ they up to?

  13. There is a lot of interest in this double portrait, so I should explain. Robin Spencer used it in his excellent book Eduardo Paolozzi: Writings and Interviews to illustrate an interview that Frank Whitford did with Paolozzi and Ballard in Studio International in 1971. (Google it). The photo was taken, we think, in the Imperial War Museum for the purpose and another one was taken at the Science museeum. Neither Robin nor I can tell you who took them. Hope that is helpful.

    Best, David Brittain

  14. Thanks, David Brittain, for your explanation of the provenance of that photo. It may have been taken in 1971 with _Studio International_ in mind, but in fact it didn’t appear there at the time, and it’s only in recent years that it seems to have been published anywhere. I don’t think I mentioned here the main reason why the Imperial War Museum photograph is of interest to me. It’s of significance because it links to a passage in _Crash_ (1973), where Ballard — or rather, the fictional “Ballard” — talks of visiting the Imperial War Museum “with a close friend,” where he sees the cockpit section of a Japanese Zero fighter. Well, now we know the anecdote was probably true, and the close friend was Paolozzi. Also we have the date 1971, which fits with when _Crash_ was written.

  15. Hello David ….. Paolozzi show at college looks great – the cafe at Wakefield had very similar set up from same time – the perspex box set ( my sophie had a copy )

    Paolozzi once told me that he treasured his time working with Ambit – and I had a few tutorial at the RCA with Frank ( W ) where he alluded to some fantastic interchanges and anecdotes – as of course did EP ….. often with me daily in the lift

    Thanks for the great book you have done – where is my signed copy by the way ?

    On anotehr issue … Worryingly my one off soft back draft copy of ‘EP Writings’ has been lifted / borrowed from my old office with Clint in Chatham PLEASE PLEASE spread the word for the search for it – ask Clint and co …. I value and cherish that book very much – and wonder if the markings up in it are from EP ….help me.hunt it down in the building as I want it back ASAP ( I am in Cavendish now 208 )


  16. http://www.invaluable.com/catalog/searchLots.cfm?scp=m&catalogRef=&shw=50&ord=2&ad=DESC&img=0&alF=1&houseRef=&houseLetter=A&artistRef=W2J5WGDA33&areaID=&countryID=&regionID=&stateID=&fdt=0&tdt=0&fr=0&to=0&wa=&wp=&wo=&nw=&upcoming=0&rp=&hi=&rem=FALSE&cs=0&row=701

    Ive not seen that KING & QUEEN mixed media piece before – see above

  17. Hi Mack,

    Paolozzi was a great teacher and I have met other former students (Tansy Spinks). I think there’s a lot more to be learnt about him from them. By the way, I am working on an interactive version of Moonstrips Empire News with a very talented programmer based in Manchester. I hope to have this ready for an exhibition at MMU next year about Paolozzi at New Worlds. I have had encouragement from some very key people including Michael Butterworth and Fay Ballard (who of course is an artist herself who grew up knowing Paolozzi)

    Let’s talk further at MMU

    Best, David

  18. Mr M. Butterworth ‘Time of the Hawklords’ paperback / with Moorcock … – nice man

    Michael Moorcock ( new worlds editor for quite a while ) may be worth contacting also David – his website is good and he interacts with it – takes questions etc ?

  19. […] fictional games (a good piece exploring thisae side of Paolozzi’s work is excerpted here from David Brittain’s book on Paolozzi’s relationships with J.G. Ballard and Martin Bax […]

  20. Simon Sellars is correct – they were flauting and flaunting!

  21. As organiser of that conference, I would like to point out one contribution especially that really knocked everyone out. This by Jon Oberlander, Professor of Epistemics in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics. I showed Jon the collages that Paolozzi made for Martin Bax and told him that they may have been made with a “scanning subject” in mind (versus a reader). In response he asked some guinea pigs to read a few of these pages and monitored their eye movements with some device. The result was a weird and interesting scientific oddity in the spirit of anything Ballard or Paolozzi could have invented.

    Wanted to share this. David

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