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Simon O’Carrigan’s The Drowned World

Author: • Mar 28th, 2010 •

Category: animation, entropy, enviro-disaster, features, Freud, Lacan, Lead Story, urban decay, urban ruins, visual art

by Simon O’Carrigan

Simon O’Carrigan. Study for “The Drowned World”. 2007. Digital montage. Dimensions variable.

Selections taken from Simon O’Carrigan’s body of work “The Drowned World”, a title taken in reference to a speculative fiction that inspired much of the imagery in this work: J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World.


[Note: the quotes throughout, from Ballard’s The Drowned World, were not included in the artist’s original presentation — SS].

“The Drowned World” is a body of work focussed on the making of images. Coming from a painterly approach to the construction of images, parallels are drawn between the layered nature of the oil paint medium, and the layering prevalent in digital imaging software. The premise of a fragmented nature of vision in a ‘deluge’ of visual culture leads to an image in tension: striving for the unity of traditional modes of painting but simultaneously embracing the fissures and tears embodied in the construction of the image. The flood became the keystone of the work’s subject matter in relation to several concerns: climate change, mythical creation floods, apocalyptic forecasts, inspiration taken from J.G. Ballard’s novel The Drowned World, and a certain atmosphere of unstoppable movement (a parallel with digital and wireless technologies).

Formally, the flood holds a unique form of surface: a surface that can shift and create unexpected combinations (by literally displacing debris, also by the nature of reflection on the surface). This surface that is temporary, mobile, and fragmented translates to the surface of the painted works. Many images in the body of work are sourced from photographs both found and newly made. The flat surface and particular characteristics of different kinds of lenses, cameras, and printing technologies are closely observed in the reworking of each image. Thus, some images sourced from 1970s National Geographic magazines have a slightly less saturated colour and a more grainy image than those taken in 2007 on a digital SLR and printed with advanced digital technologies.

The combination of the image fragments is often firstly a digital process, but always mimicking traditional knife-and-glue collage. In this way, the digital production uses the trompe l’oeil mode of painting. This is extended by the literal use of trompe l’oeil in some of the works, and the addition of neatly ‘cut’ projected video to act as another layer of montage, as if the projected light could be cut and glued into place.

Simon O’Carrigan. Iguana (from The Drowned World). 2008. Mixed media cel animation. 15 sec.

All the way down the creek, perched in the windows of the office blocks and department stores, the iguanas watched them go past, their hard frozen heads jerking stiffly… Without the reptiles, the lagoons and the creeks of office blocks half-submerged in the immense heat would have had a strange dream-like beauty, but the iguanas and basilisks brought the fantasy down to earth. As their seats in the one-time board-rooms indicated, the reptiles had taken over the city. Once again they were the dominant form of life.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

The body of work depicts the flood both as peaceful, cleansing bodies of water and as destructive, apocalyptic events. The apocalypse figures in the final body of work only as an allusion or a hidden layer of meaning, though the research focussed largely on this apocalypse as a parallel of the ‘Death of Painting’. The ‘Death of Painting’ was prefigured by photography’s invention, and then more directly by the expansion of artistic practice to include found objects, installations and performances. In “The Drowned World”, the aim was to answer the question not of painting’s vitality (a question which is often asked, but to my mind misses the point) but of its ontology. Like any art form, painting can never completely die, but its modality can change and evolve.

Digital imaging and its collusion with marketing and consumer culture have greatly changed the methods and significance of image construction, and image transmission. This shift in visual culture is arguably as significant for painting as the invention of photography was: at a time when fewer artists work with images (choosing rather to focus on conceptual works, performance, or time-based mediums), the creation of visual representations are left to open for commerce to dominate. It is my feeling that those of us who choose still to paint, and to do so in a representational manner, have a responsibility to take the images back, and to investigate the ramifications of the changing modes of image construction and consumption.

Parts of my research focussed on a handful of texts – Rosalind Krauss and subsequent commentary on the ‘expanded field’ of arts practice, and Jacques Lacan on visuality and subjectivity. These lines of inquiry are not central to the finished work, nor need the audience even be aware of them, though they were central in focussing and clarifying what was being achieved in the work. The ‘expanded field’ discourse speaks of a ‘technical support’ as replacing the traditional medium – in this case, all the works may become resolved as oil on canvas, but the production method is a combination of traditional and digital ideas (composition, layering, colour theory, blue-screen and matting effects). The works that combine projection and painting most obviously fit this schema, though all the works shared a focus not on the materiality of one particular medium, but on the crossing points between different ways of working.

Simon O’Carrigan. Burnley Hotel (from The Drowned World). 2008. Mixed Media, stopmotion, & digital. 1 min 37 sec.

…this morning he found himself reluctant to leave the cool, air-curtained haven of the hotel suite. He had spent a couple of hours over breakfast alone, and then completed a six-page entry in his diary, deliberately delaying his departure until Colonel Riggs passed the hotel in his patrol boat, knowing that by then it would be too late to go to the station.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Lacan’s notion of visuality and ‘geometral perspective’ clarified for me the reality of fragmented perception and questions the truth of the image. Just as much, it questions the truth of sight and the reliance on light. The projector inverts the usual working of viewing a painting, projecting out and onto rather then looking and ‘taking in’. The layers of imagery and the surface of the flood (or canvas) came for me to symbolise Lacan’s Imaginary, Real and Symbolic; the final painting taking the position of the Lacanian image-screen which shields the subject from reality. In this way, the works function as the tuché (the missed encounter with the Real) – a seemingly obvious parallel to the eking out of lives forever barraged by images which shelter us from objectively or literally experiencing their depicted events.

Finally, the notion of nachtraglichkeit (deferred action) taken from Sigmund Freud engages with a kind of deferred conclusion. Most explicitly referenced in the work Deferred Rapture, I took this notion of deferral to relate to a post- poned Apocalypse. I developed a sense of the ‘punctuational apocalypse’ – meaning that as a period at the end of the sentence, the Apocalypse gives meaning to what has come before. In this way, the end of painting, whether it eventually arrives as a final judgement or just as another deferral along the way, pushes forward the painter to create images of depth and significance as much as possible. The images finally displayed for assessment read quite clearly as images aimed at unity, aimed at a sense of the sublime, but falling short – rendered out of fragments plucked from the deluge, there is an impossibility of ever completing that perfect image, and possibly of ever recovering the sought after depth and significance of the image.

Simon O’Carrigan.

Simon O’Carrigan. Final Days. 2006. Oil on canvas. 120 x 160 cm.

Was the drowned world itself, and the mysterious quest for the south which had possessed Hardman, no more than an impulse to suicide, an unconscious acceptance of the logic of his own devolutionary descent, the ultimate neuronic synthesis of the archaeopsychic zero?

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Louisian Ha Long (3121). 2007. Oil & mixed media on canvas. 80 x 60 cm.

The Mediterranean contracted into a system of inland lakes, the British Isles was linked again with northern France. The Middle West of the United States, filled by the Mississippi as it drained the Rocky Mountains, became an enormous gulf opening into the Hudson Bay, while the Caribbean Sea was transformed into a desert of silt and salt flats. Europe became a system of giant lagoons, centred on the principal low-lying cities, inundated by the silt carried southwards by the expanding rivers.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Surfacing (Cataract). 2007. Oil on canvas & acetate. 76 x 51 cm.

The bulk of the city had long since vanished, and only the steel-supported buildings of the central commercial and financial areas had survived the encroaching flood waters. The brick houses and single-storey factories of the suburbs had disappeared completely below the drifting tides of silt. Where these broke surface giant forests reared up into the burning dull-green sky, smothering the former wheatfields of temperate Europe and North America.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Acid Lake (Tidal Fold). 2007. Oil on canvas. 60 x 101 cm (two panels).

Many of the smaller lakes were now filled by the silt, yellow discs of fungus-covered sludge from which a profuse tangle of competing plant forms emerged, walled gardens in an insane Eden.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. After the Deluge (First Light Over Neo Atlantis). 2007. Oil on canvas & foamcore. 91 x 122 cm.

When the first of the storm-belts moved off the visibility cleared, and he could see the southern edge of the sea, a line of tremendous silt banks over a hundred yards in height. In the spasmodic sunlight they glittered along the horizon like fields of gold, the tops of the jungle beyond rising above them.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Ef(fusion). 2007. Oil on canvas, digital lambda print, foamcore. 66 x 75 cm.

Only fifty miles to the south, the rain-clouds were packed together in tight layers, blotting out the swamps and archipelagos of the horizon. Obscured by the events of the past week, the archaic sun in his mind beat again continuously with its immense power, its identity merging now with that of the real sun visible behind the rain clouds. Relentless and magnetic, it called him southward, to the great heat and submerged lagoons of the Equator.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Rip/Current (We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Come To It). 2007. Oil on canvas. 61 x 61 cm.

Huge pools of water still lay about everywhere, leaking from the ground floors of the buildings, but they were little more than two or three feet deep. There were clear stretches of pavement over a hundred yards long, and many of the further streets were completely drained. Dying fish and marine plants expired in the centre of the roadways, and huge banks of black sludge were silted up into the gutters and over the sidewalks, but fortunately the escaping waters had cut long pathways through them.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Please Dump Garbage. 2008. Mixed media, solvent transfer on Arches archival paper. 40 x 60 cm.

As the sun rose over the lagoon, driving clouds of steam into the great golden pall, Kerans felt the terrible stench of the water-line, the sweet compacted smells of dead vegetation and rotting animal carcasses. Huge flies spun by, bouncing off the wire cage of the cutter, and giant bats raced across the heating water towards their eyries in the ruined buildings. Beautiful and serene from his balcony a few minutes earlier, Kerans realized that the lagoon was nothing more than a garbage-filled swamp.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Rain Dogs. 2008. Mixed media, solvent transfer on Arches archival paper. 60 x 40 cm.

With the reappearance of the submerged streets and buildings his entire manner had changed abruptly. All traces of courtly refinement and laconic humour had vanished; he was now callous and vulpine, the renegade spirit of the hoodlum streets returning to his lost playground. It was almost as if the presence of the water had anaesthetized him, smothering his true character so that only the surface veneer of charm and moodiness remained.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Alter-Piece (Flow). 2007. Oil on canvas & acetate, projected video. Dimensions variable, 51 x 64 cm.

Down the side-streets they could see the great viscous mass lifting over the rooftops, flowing through the gutted buildings… Here and there the perimeter of the dyke moored itself to a heavier obstruction – a church or government office – and diverged from its circular path around the lagoon.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Fissure (Under the Weather Projection). 2007. Oil on canvas, projected video. Dimensions variable (120 x 120 cm).

‘Perhaps these sunken lagoons simply remind me of the drowned world of my uterine childhood – if so, the best thing is to leave straight away. Everything Riggs says is true. There’s little hope of standing up to the
rainstorms and the malaria’.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Lagoon. 2008. Mixed media, solvent transfer on Arches archival paper. 30 x 60 cm.

Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel balcony shortly after eight o’clock, Kerans watched the sun rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperms crowding over the roofs of the abandoned department stores four hundred yards away on the east side of the lagoon. Even through the massive olive-green fronds the relentless power of the sun was plainly tangible.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Lagoon #2. 2008. Mixed media, solvent transfer on Arches archival paper. 60 x 40 cm.

Many of the lagoons in the centre of the city were surrounded by an intact ring of buildings, and consequently little silt had entered them. Free of vegetation, apart from a few drifting clumps of Sargaso weed, the streets and shops had been preserved almost intact, like a reflection in a lake that has somehow lost its original.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Study for “Lagoon”. 2008. Mixed media on paper. 15 x 20 cm.

Behind the building was an enormous bank of silt, reaching upwards out of the surrounding swamp to the railings of the terrace, on to which spilled a luxurious outcrop of vegetation. Ducking below the broad fronds of the fern-trees, he raced along to the barrage, fitted between the end of the building and the shoulder of the adjacent office block. Apart from the exit creek on the far side of the lagoon where the pumping scows had been stationed, this was the only major entry point for the water that had passed into the lagoon.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Study for “Lagoon”. 2008. Mixed media on paper. 15 x 20 cm.

With a dull rumbling roar of collapsing buildings, the sea poured in full flood.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Study for “Lagoon”. 2008. Mixed media on paper. 20 x 15 cm.

Too many of the other buildings around the lagoon had long since slipped and slid away below the silt, revealing their gimcrack origins, and the Ritz now stood in splendid isolation on the west shore, even the rich blue moulds sprouting from the carpets in the dark corridors adding to its 19th-century dignity.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

Simon O’Carrigan. Lagoon (from The Drowned World). 2008. Paper cut out & oil on acetate. 12 sec.

Slowly the interval of water widened to a hundred and then two hundred yards, and he reached the first of the small islands that grew out of the swamp on the roofs of isolated buildings. Hidden by them, he sat up and reefed
the sail, then looked back for the last time at the perimeter of the lagoon.

J.G. Ballard. The Drowned World (1962).

+ More info: Simon O’Carrigan

..:: Previously on Ballardian:
+ “Ambiguous aims”: a review of Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard [NSFW]
+ The Office Park
+ Ann Lislegaard: ‘Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard)’
+ Drowned London
+ Flooded London
+ ‘Paradigm of nowhere’: Shepperton, a photo essay
+ J.G. Ballard: the Visual Tribute
+ Jon Cattapan’s Drowned World
+ Future Ruins

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7 Responses »

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by simon sellars, Andrew Ray. Andrew Ray said: RT @Ballardian: New post: artist Simon O'Carrigan's evocative mixed-media series The Drowned World, inspired by the Ballard novel: http://bit.ly/bDn8ir […]

  2. Thanks, Simon (both Simons!), some interesting works there. A few of them, especially “Acid Lake” and “Lagoon”, remind me of Dick French’s artwork for the illustrated Dragon’s Dream edition of “The Drowned World”.

  3. Yes indeed, Mike – I was reminded of those Dick french covers, too…

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Some_landscapes: RT @Ballardian: New post: artist Simon O’Carrigan’s evocative mixed-media series The Drowned World, inspired by the Ballard novel: http://bit.ly/bDn8ir

  5. […] O’Carrigan has posted his collages today on Ballardian, a collection heavily influenced by J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World.   These fit nicely […]

  6. […] Simon O’Carrigan’s The Drowned World […]

  7. […] You can read the full article here. […]

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