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The Brangelina Exhibition

Author: • Apr 17th, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, celebrity culture, media landscape, Salvador Dali, surrealism, visual art

Ballardian: The Brangelina Exhibition
‘If Dali Had Painted Angelina Jolie’, by 14. Copyright 2006.

I’ve just discovered the Gallery of the Absurd, maintained by the artist known simply as ’14’ and devoted to her sharp, witty and frightening caricatures of A-list celebrities. There’s TomKat recast as TomRat — two furry, grotesque rodents cradling their hideous offspring; there’s The Three Disgraces: Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, their scabby firecrotches on display in a gross distortion of Botticelli’s La Primavera.

And then there’s an entry titled If Dali Had Painted Angelina Jolie [see above], with its distinct Ballardian tinge. In Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, the character T’s fractured psyche, trying to make sense of the imploding late 60s media landscape, is awash in a distorted world of gigantic billboards featuring images of celebrities and traumatic, media-irradiated eruptions of violence (the Vietnam War; the Kennedy assassination) — all of it filling his mind and consequently the skies that hang above the coded landscape of telecommunication towers, satellite arrays and filling stations.

Here are some representative passages:

For hours they drove through the endless suburbs of the city. The billboards multiplied around them, walling the streets with giant replicas of napalm bombings in Vietnam, the serial deaths of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe terraced in the landscapes of Dien Bien Phu and the Mekong Delta.”

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J.G. Ballard. The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), RE/Search edition, p. 11.
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During the past week a series of enormous signs had been built along the roads surrounding the hospital, almost walling it in from the rest of the world… Looking at it more closely, Dr Nathan realized that in fact it was an immensely magnified portion of the skin over the iliac crest. Glancing at the billboards, Dr Nathan recognized other magnified fragments: a segment of lower lip, a right nostril, a portion of female perineum. Only an anatomist would have identified these fragments, each represented as a formal geometric pattern. At least five hundred of the signs would be needed to contain the whole of this gargantuan woman, terraced here into a quantified sand-sea…”

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J.G. Ballard. The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), RE/Search edition, p. 15.
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Ballard borrows the concept of the mindscape — the mind as landscape — from Dali, explaining that he wanted ‘to explore the subliminal connections between, say, the Marilyn Monroe figure on a giant billboard, one’s own personal life and sexual relationships, and the unconscious layers of sexual memory and desire stowed away in the cargo hold of one’s psyche. All this is creating a mix that is unique to the 20th century.’

In the 21st century, that mix is hypermagnified, hyperintense — celebrities are famous simply for being famous (or for flashing their crotch in public). Again, Ballard was quick off the mark:

Celebrity uncontaminated by actual achievement has enormous lift-off capacity. It can float instantly in the air and we all stand back in amazement. This puzzles us and triggers a curiosity about the real nature of these people whose fame you can’t justify. Fantasy then rushes in to fill the vacuum, which is a very different thing from the way fame operated in the past. I don’t suppose the average Londoner living through the Blitz had any fantasies about Winston Churchill.

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J.G. Ballard, quoted in Frieze, 1996.
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This chimes in with the artist’s statement:

One of my favorite Salvador Dali paintings is Sleep. I place Angelina Jolie in this painting because she’s larger than life and needs several Daliesque pedestals to support her fame. Not only is she considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, she also donates time, money and energy toward the betterment of others. Her qualities of rebellious vixen combined with doting mother generate intrigue and devout fandom.”

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‘If Dali Had Painted Angelina Jolie’. 14.
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Indeed, 14’s brilliant, timely Dali pastiche, featuring the monstrous, suspended head of uber-celebrity Angelina Jolie backlit by a Surrealistic sky, is nothing less than a portrait from a 21st-century Atrocity Exhibition.

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One Response »

  1. Very good Exhibition.

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