PRINT October 2009

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

IN MANY OF J. G. BALLARD’S NOVELS, the characters are left to wonder if they should stay or leave: “Are you going to stay on here?”1 When one is immersed in an overwhelming and intense environment like that of The Crystal World (1966), The Drowned World (1962), or The Burning World (1964)—or even that of an extreme high-rise, an abandoned highway, or a decaying leisure zone—whether to stay or leave becomes a very important question. All the more so when the environment itself slowly produces a new psychogeographic condition, seeming to contaminate all thoughts, dreams, and desires. The same questions arise in certain aesthetic experiences. How do we digest and metabolize intense perceptions, uncomfortable visions, and disorienting situations? How do such extreme conditions match or produce our interior landscapes?

A few days after Ballard died, I was reminded of the way in which he disturbed my sense of beauty forever. I then tried to imagine what a “Ballard Park” might look like. It would, of course, have a drained pool, a deserted highway, and sand dunes—but also concrete fragments, mutating plants, rotten cars, a mixture of precious objects and trash. If our past has been partly Kafkaesque, our present and future are Ballardian. While Charles Baudelaire rendered the newly desperate, synesthetic, and erotic urban condition of the nineteenth century, Ballard identified and visualized our current landscapes and their complex distortions to come. He told of drastic changes in climate and of the endless cultural and industrial colonization of the planet, mapping the resulting violent and psycho-aesthetic effects. Like Marguerite Duras, another writer who came of age in Asia, Ballard was probably deeply “tropicalized” by his childhood in Shanghai during World War II. This was where he saw his first vacant pools, threadbare evening dresses, and abandoned airfields and hotels. Somewhere between Joseph Conrad, the 1968 film The Swimmer, and Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque, 1969–72, lay Ballard’s completely different aesthetic, one that allowed for our own contemporary attraction and ambivalence toward environments that are very far from classical or pastoral beauty. I have come to realize that many of my own photographs have been informed and even generated by the strange impression I get when I find myself in front of a Ballardian site or in a Ballardian moment. “Hello America.”2

1. J. G. Ballard, The Drought (London: Harper Perennial, 2008), 15. Originally published as The Burning World (1964).

2. J. G. Ballard, Hello America (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981).

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is an artist who lives and works in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.