press release

Preview Saturday 26 April 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm

The J. G. Ballard Centre for Psychopathological Research

Introduction to ‘Zodiac 3000' by Karen Novotny, April 2008

‘We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.'

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) ‘You see, people these days, who give the impression that their minds are a complete vacuum – no dreams or hopes of any importance, even to themselves, emanate through the sutures of their skulls… But that doesn't matter, in a sense, because the environment does the dreaming for them.' J.G. Ballard, 21C (1997)

In April 2007 I met Dr Robert Laing at Kingston University , and it was from this initial encounter that the exhibition ‘Zodiac 3000' has formed. At the time, we were visiting a series of talks for another exhibition; one based on the theme of new forms of criticism, which took place at Stanley Picker Gallery, the university's contemporary art space. After the event we both went our separate ways, but it wasn't very long until we spoke again; affected by the critical context of the exhibition, Laing proposed that we meet about the potential of a project based on J.G. Ballard's literary oeuvre, and most of all the suggestion of a New Psychology within his writing. Laing referred to the power of the surrounding suburban area of our initial encounter – Ballard has resided in Shepperton close to Kingston in South West London for the majority of his life – and so our discussions moved on to explore a series of contemporary visual representations that might suggest a deeply Ballardian view of the world.

The decision to use the International Project Space (IPS) became pertinent for the context within which the gallery is set. One could say that the original utopian philanthropy of George Cadbury's Bournville Estate, within which Bournville Centre for Visual Arts (BCVA) and IPS are situated, holds a darker side. When functioning as a factory village, the generous architecture of the workers' houses masked the area's purely economic function of creating an effective workforce. In fact, slave labour effectively operated in Birmingham in the 20th century because people in Bournville felt trapped for a whole host of reasons, including not being able to escape the institutional confines of Cadbury's ‘philanthropic' enterprise. Now a predominantly well-to-do population occupies the area, one that is at odds with the wider demographic of Birmingham . On the one hand, the contemporary nature of Bournville still contains a utopian flavour; its Quaker run committee insists on the area being maintained to a high degree. It is dry, has no pubs, and recent achievements have included the blocking of a planned Tesco Express on the edge of the estate's boundaries. However, the area is desirable and increasingly bourgeois, and it's perhaps this fact that situates the area as appropriate for the theme of this exhibition. If the utopianism of Cadbury's original endeavour is historically embedded in Bournville's architecture or plan, then its current population might be relevant to Ballard's theme of unexpected revolutions, which take place in middle class suburbs or ghettos. In this sense the exhibition deals with the flip side of the utopianism represented by places like Bournville and the dystopian class-based split contained in Ballard's oeuvre.

One of the persistent themes in Ballard's writing is an investigation into the heart of things, a fact that stems from the writer's internment in a prisoner of war camp as a child in the Second World War. Rather than attempting to escape the boundaries of his given circumstances – to jump over the fence of his confinement, or escape the frame of the picture, so to speak – he attempts to burrow into the centre of his captivity and incarceration, to achieve a solid and disturbing investigation of his institutional surroundings. With this in mind, the exhibition attempts to enquire into the nature of the gallery's environment, its position within a university, and the possibility of applying a new set of institutional parameters to contemporary art. To carry this theme further, IPS has been turned into the foyer of the J.G. Ballard Centre for Psychopathological Research, an institute built to interrogate the New Psychology explored in Ballard's fiction. This subterranean institution, constructed by Laing, will effectively try to explore and enhance new psychological tendencies.

Within this context, Dan Mitchell will focus on middle class sexual boredom and its relationship with the desired prize of interior design. This obsession dominates time and represents occupational therapy as a battleground of castle decoration, together with a fight for survival. In this respect, the floors of products on display at Habitat become sacred, full of brooding vibrancy, and contain dark and textured themes of repressed rage.

Alastair MacKinven's project for the exhibition will physically divide the gallery in two. A partition will extend through IPS to the gates of BCVA, across into Cadbury's chocolate factory, and out through the entire estate. Indicated by wooden pegs holding flat signs, MacKinven's work intends to socially segregate the area, and aims to provoke a division between two future warring communities – The Cocoshuffters and The White Chocolateers – within the currently peaceful Bournville Estate.

Along with his Burberry flags of style, class and consumer identity (these works, The St. George's Cross , The Homecoming and The Riot take their titles from Ballard's Kingdom Come (2006)), Merlin Carpenter has proposed a ready-made sculpture redolent of Ballard's fetishised fixation on sex and disaster, and contemporary Britain's obsession with royalty, celebrity, death, and unresolved conspiracy theories. He plans to drive a dilapidated black 1997 S-type Mercedes at high speed straight into IPS' interior sign situated within BCVA's courtyard. The resulting crash scene will become a prop for the duration of the exhibition.

Rachel Reupke has chosen to use found images gleaned from billboards and posters on the street. Her video, or rather her animated ‘presentations', announce the promise of a new society filled with lifestyle choices – a modern arcadia of high-rises, shopping malls and parkland. Based partly on Eden-Olympia , the high-tech business park in the hills above Cannes in Ballard's Super Cannes (2000), and on illustrations of architectural developments on construction boom hoardings in Beijing, her work speaks of the future inserted into the present. Containing the strange yet banal directorial feel of a corporate video, faith in these images' vision falter, as symbolic motifs become unreadable and the architecture remains generic. We are left to observe a half true record, and a half faux artifact.

Similarly, Josephine Pryde takes her photographs into the darkroom and beyond. Ballard's thoughts on photography questioned whether the camera was a ‘Cyclops eye of the late 20 th century, recording everything but seeing nothing,' and observed that the planet was drowning ‘in an ocean of photographic emulsion.' Pryde's images surf above this wave of recorded and flattened photography, which clutter our imaginations; they flood the drained mind with fantastic scenes that render our consciousness open and changed. As Pryde has said in her 2004 Secession catalogue ‘...all this fantastic image stuff and style, and the consumer world, can leave me very confused and over-excited, and making my own photographs is quite a good way for me to try to stay calm.'

At a certain point during the research for the project, Laing and I wrote to Ballard in Shepperton to ask his permission to make a project based on his concept of a New Psychology. He responded with a message written on the back of two postcards that depict surrealist paintings; Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory (1931) and Paul Delvaux's La Rue du tramway (Street of the Trams) (1938-39). ‘All I ask is that you keep my “participation” within reasonable bounds… there are too many madmen out there who think that they are completely sane.' he wrote. Taking Ballard's advice, we have attempted to take an ethical stance on our motivations for this exhibition, and have tried to do justice to the disturbing view of the world represented in the writer's work. What follows in this exhibition is a series of projects that try not only to open up a contemporary psychological viewpoint on our surroundings, but which also attempt to present new possibilities for psychology through the effect of contemporary sociological, cultural and political tendencies that we are we can all see around us on an increasingly powerful level. We hope that you enjoy the exhibition.

curated by Dr Robert Laing and Karen Novotny. Including: Merlin Carpenter, Alastair MacKinven, Dan Mitchell, Josephine Pryde, and Rachel Reupke.

only in german

Zodiac 3000
Kuratoren: Robert Laing, Karen Novotny

mit Merlin Carpenter, Alastair MacKinven, Dan Mitchell, Josephine Pryde, Rachel Reupke