i felt like an atheist touring a church, like a skeptic lured by an outlandish cult, on verge of giving in. ballard’s work, his style, his writing, his contributions themselves became irrelevant. it was his obsessions, his morbid lucidity, his flair for shocking and rocking that were on display. the autopsy show is a lesson in fetishism –the author as a substitute pop totem.
the show turned to showmanship in the “pornography and technology” room, which very much looked like a crossbred between bride of frankenstein and a cheap xxx film with a visit to the dentist theme. you had these creepy operation tables with pictures of car-wrecks. you had cronenberg’s crash playing. you had a letter report about wanting to fuck ronald reagan. you had joy-of-(twisted)-sex-style documentaries from the seventies, and a huge video pastiche of clinical, endoscopic porn.
i moved on from the awkward and fleshy to the cold, pasteurized “asepsis and neobarbarism” section. here the layout was more basic: a couple of digital signs hanging from the roof, again, with fragments of text that, unless you’d actually read whatever book they were from, one couldn’t really make sense out of. then four or five screens showing the shoddy 3D promos for hypothetic luxury developments that have become the staple of post-dubai urban marketing. “only injections of violence can disrupt the lethargy and make a new utopia possible,” read the little tag for the room. but isn’t that what all these new developments are about, spoonfuls of sugared violence? isn’t dystopia the new utopia?
the last part of the exhibition is a series of rooms that basically amount to the church of jgb. first off, a “reading room,” or all you can eat buffet, with a neat encased row of first editions—like the plastic foodclones on display in low-grade japanese restaurants—dominating the tables stashed with library copies that visitors can flip through. even though this was the perfect chance for me to at least read a paragraph of ballard, i avoided the books and just kept moving. i really like the idea of reading rooms in exhibitions, but not once have i seen anyone actually taking the time to sit down and read anything. let alone a novel.
the ballardly altar room was my favorite of them all. it was presided over by a fragment of the unlimited dream company, a 1983 film by sam scoggings, were ballard is asaulted with 90 two-second questions from eyckman’s personality quotient. do you enjoy meeting new people? are your feelings easily hurt? do you often feel fed up? do you enjoy hurting the people you love? would you call yourself a nervous person? Are you a warrior? do you worry about awful things that might happen? do people who drive carefully annoy you? as the postmodern inquisitional trial unfolds, the camera zooms into ballard, till you can see the sweat on his forehead and his eye looks like a fly trapped in a jar. in the context of the exhibition, the film feels like a contemporary relic of sorts, digital cartilage stripped from the ominous saint.
the show closes with visual epistles of ballardian apostles. a full iconography can be drawn from the black and white pictures of ana barrado, or from the barrage of michel lord’s future ruins series. the preaching of the word is present in the bits of ballardian techno-following (the ballardian blog, jgb groupie homevideos playing on cellphones).
the autopsy reveals the voice of this man that lives in a world that can’t believe anymore, but doesn’t know how to stop believing.