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Crash: Apocalyptic J.G. Ballard quotes about cars on traffic signs
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J.G. Ballard

In 1965 the British Road Sign project was launched, introducing Great Britain to a multitude of new road signs as well as two ubiquitous two new typefaces (Transport and Motorway), all of which were designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, who basically invented modern road signage in the same act. It doesn’t matter if you live in the U.K. or the U.S. or the European continent—if you’ve been in a car, you’ve seen their two-dimensional pantomimes (example).

2015 being the 50th anniversary of the British Road Sign, this summer the MADE NORTH Gallery celebrated the design landmarks with a project in which they invited “leading British artists and designers to transform the familiar circle, triangle and square signs.” The participants were encouraged to “create their own content for the signs developing concepts that evolve from current signs function of instructing people of speed limits and directions to poetically disrupting our everyday with designs that makes us stop, look and think about design and our environment in a slightly different way; less instructions and more pauses for thought.”

J.G. Ballard behind the wheel of a 1904 Renault Park Phaeton, 1971
Possibly the most intriguing entry came from the well-known British designer Jonathan Barnbrook, whose past projects include the album art for David Bowie’s 2002 album Heathen as well as his 2013 release The Next Day; he also collaborated with Damien Hirst on his restaurant Pharmacy. Barnbrook crated two “anti-signs,” if you will, signs that could never serve any proper public service but whose very inutility prompts the viewer to engage with them in a more conceptual, artistic way. More interestingly, Barnbrook’s two signs incorporate lengthy quotations from the patron saint of automobile crashes, J.G. Ballard, the one man on earth who might fairly be said to disagree with the need for traffic signs to prevent fatal accidents.

Both signs are essentially illegible in the usual sense, and simply offer up a perverse Ballard sentiment about cars in forbidding combinations of red, white, and black. The first features a sentence from Ballard’s interview in Penthouse, which appeared in the magazine in the September 1970 issue (incidentally, three years before the publication of Ballard’s magnum opus on automobile accidents, Crash, but the same year as Ballard’s thematically similar multi-media work The Atrocity Exhibition).

For the record, the full line is “A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status—all in one event.” You can read Ballard’s full Penthouse interview here.

Barnbrook’s second sign appropriates a comment about the eventual demise of cars (one that has proven to be not very prophetic at all) that comes from an essay Ballard wrote for the Autumn 1971 issue of Drive called “The Car, the Future”:

This sign is far more cluttered, with too much text really. The quotation reads as follows: “The car as we know it is on the way out. To a large extent, I deplore its passing, for as a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned machine, it enshrines a basically old-fashioned idea: freedom. In terms of pollution, noise and human life, the price of that freedom may be high, but perhaps the car, by the very muddle and confusion it causes, may be holding back the remorseless spread of the regimented, electronic society.” You can read the full essay “The Car, the Future” here.

After the jump, director Harley Cokeliss’ 17-minute meditation on Ballard’s “Crash” thematic, featuring an appearance by Ballard himself…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
J. G. Ballard’s ‘Favorite TV commercial of all time’

Author of Crash and Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard once said that a commercial showing ‘robots’ building a Fiat car was his favorite advert of all time.

Ballard made the claim on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4’s long-running music and interview show, in February 1992, when he shared the 8 records that best represented his life with presenter, Sue Lawley.

As Ballard explained:

‘I like the overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, which many people will have heard as the background music to a wonderful Fiat ad. that was shown on television a few years ago. I think my favorite TV commercial of all time.’

It was Rossini’s “Figaro’s Aria” from the opera that was used in this famous Fiat Strada advert from 1979. The commercial was directed by Hugh Hudson, who is best-known for the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire. Hudson’s ad was a compelling mix of technology with opera, and was well-known for its tag-line:

Hand built by Robots

That was later famously spoofed on Not the NIne O’Clock News as:

Hand built by Roberts

Amongst Ballard‘s other favorite tracks on Desert island Discs were Noël Coward’s version of “Let’s Do It”, Astrud Gilberto being breathily seductive on “The Girl From Ipanema”, Rita Hayworth and “Put The Blame On Mame”, Henry Hall’s “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling In Love Again”.

Ballard also remarked that he considered himself a “disappointed painter’:

‘I think in many ways I am a sort of disappointed painter, I always wanted to be a painter, but simply lacked the technical ability, lacked the talent. In fact, people say my novels are tremendously visual, in a sense I paint my novels, there you have the life work of a frustrated painter.

Listen/download the full interview here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J. G. Ballard


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Future Now’: A brilliant portrait of novelist J. G. Ballard, from 1986

Writers need stability to nurture their talent and unfetter their imagination. Too much chaos dilutes the talent and diminishes the productivity. Writers like Norman Mailer squandered too much time and effort on making his life the story - when in fact he should have been writing it. J. G. Ballard was well aware of this, and he had the quiet certainty of a 3-bed, des res, with shaded garden and off-street parking at front. Yet, Ballard’s seeming conformity to a middle class idyll appeared to astound so many critics, commentators, journalists, whatevers, who all failed to appreciate a true writer’s life is one of lonely, unrelenting sedentary toil, working at a desk 9-5, or however long - otherwise the imagination can not fly.

That’s why I have always found suburbs far more interesting places than those anonymous urban centers. Cities are about mass events - demonstrations, revolution, massacre, war, shared public experience. Suburbia is about the repressed forces of individual action. It’s where the murders are planned, the orgies enjoyed, the drugs devoured, the imagination inspired. Suburbia is where dysfunction is normalized.

And J. G. Ballard was very aware of this.

Future Now is a documentary interview with J G Ballard, made in 1986 not long after he had achieved international success with his faux-biographical novel Empire of the Sun. Opening with a brief tour of his Shepperton home, Ballard gives an excellent and incisive interview, which only reminds what we have lost.

Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara have edited together a brilliant collection of interviews and conversations with J G Ballard 1967-2008, in one volume called Extreme Metaphors, which is a must-have for anyone with an interest in Ballard.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J. G. Ballard

With thanks to Richard!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
J.G. Ballard’s Crash!  (A Film By Harley Cokeliss)

And speaking of David Cronenberg...the Canadian wasn’t the first director to take a stab at J.G. Ballard’s novel.  The San Diego-born (but London educated) Harley Cokeliss directed a version of his own in ‘71.

Since Crash, the novel, was still two years down the road, Cokeliss based the film on some fragments found in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition.  And, perhaps even more suited to the role than James Spader, Ballard himself starred as the film’s lead.  From the Ballardian:

With his brooding, hypermasculine presence, Ballard plays a version of Atrocity’s ‘T’ character alongside the actor Gabrielle Drake, her own role a composite of the book’s archetypal ’sex-kit’ women.  The film was a product of the most experimental, the darkest phase of Ballard’s career.  It was an era of psychological blowback from the sudden, shocking death of his wife in 1964, an era that had produced the cut-up ‘condensed novels’ of Atrocity, plus a series of strange collages and ‘advertisers’ announcements.’

The Ballardian link includes a scene-by-scene description of the hard-to-see short, but, since it’s a recent addition to YouTube, you can start watching it right now below:

Crash! Part II

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment