Tag Archives: JG Ballard

Back to The Future

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

This is one from the original concept for this blog; one of the hundreds of slides that i took while working at the A**s C***cil in the late 1990’s and early 2000s.

The work afforded lots of opportunity for travel and because I’m nose-y, also allowed me to poke my nose into places where people didn’t often go. I can’t remember how I first heard about Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (probably while working at the H**ry M**re Foundation in the early ’90’s) but it had always been high on my list of interesting places to visit. Virtually inaccessible except by Geordie public transport or by car, the sculpture (sculpitectre? (c) Sir Anthony Caro) was a bastard to find in those far off pre-google maps days. I drove twice round Peterlee first, far too intimated to ask for directions to something that I already knew that the locals hated…but there it was, nestled in a grassy dell of the Sunny Blunts estate, surmounting a rancid lake, the Chapel Perilous by way of A Clockwork Orange: something heroic, Arthurian and abandoned, a pissy, graffitti-ed castle. The sculpture (completed 1969) was named for the moon landings, and represents the fag-end of British Modernism, as the sixties curdled into the 70’s, Alfie growing into Jack Carter. The Pavilion was a symbol, not of the heroic age of modernism, but of the slow decline of British visual culture into the 1980’s, into the apotheosis of middle-class philistinism, Margret Thatcher.

The Pavilion is now restored, having been refused listing by New Labour’s ‘Tony’ Banks in 1998 (Cool Britannia rejecting the visual culture of Old Labour in all its forms), a Community Association having been formed to protect it (how wrong I was) in 2003 and  £336,000 awarded to Peterlee from the HLF in 2008. The steps have been reinstated, the fence and ‘softening’ planting removed, as befits an icon of British modernism. In 2011 is was awarded Grade II* listed status, the second highest level of listing by English Heritage. I link to a image of it restored, but, secretly, I still prefer its abandoned state when only I, like Sir Percival, knew the location of the grail, and whom it served.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Spitfire Parade

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Battle of Britain, 1941
Oil on Canvas
(c) Imperial War Museums (art.IWM ART LD 1550)

So here’s a thing.  My grandmother was a painter, and both my parents were architects and also painted, and the tradition of mid-century English painting and design was present in my early life to such an extent that, for me as a child, it seemed that that was how painting was done…which was why my discovery of Pop or Abstract Expressionism at school such a mind-blowing revelation. Because Spencer, Nash, Moore, Ravilious, Baynes, Piper, Sutherland, Hale; that mid-century aesthetic, forged in two world wars, but coloured with the gentility of the middle class, created the way that I, we, perceive visual culture: the Home Counties Apocalypse of John Wyndam, or John Christopher, souring into the nihilistic rationalist psychedelia of Aldis and Ballard.

So it is hard for me to name this work or even see this as art, since this is a baseline from which all art (by definition, deviation) deviates. I’ve come to love it, but it is a love of nostalgia, not of knowledge. Living in the US, this work is unavailable to any real extent, in the same why that Turner, the antecedent of this work, is also a virtual unknown.  Nash’s painting as war artist of WW2 shows the conflict as a sometime surreal dream, a dream where the details, the shine of water, the tilt of the horizon from the cockpit, are more present than actual visceral realities of conflict. What strikes in this image is not the clash of man and machine, but sheer vastness of the space in which that conflict takes place.  Testimony from fighter and bomber pilots from the war are not about close contact, but about the distance between objects; the size of the canvas on which they played. And of course, for a boy (man) my age, the Battle of Britain is one of the heroic definitions of our generation. This painting makes real the revelation that the war in the air was not about ideology, men or machine, but about space (so back to Ballard and the surreal again).

We had a Nash on the wall in the JCR at college; a painting of tanks on exercise on Salisbury plain (where I was at school); though oddly I can’t find a reference for the painting online. I also knew Nash’s nephew, Peter-Paul Nash, the composer, for a while; he married a good friend of mine.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Bridge To The Table Mountain

Crickhowell Bridge C-86836X
Judges of Hastings (01424) 420919
http://www.judges.co.uk

Staying on the Welsh theme, a postcard of Crickhowell Bridge. This was a thank you card for birthday presents from my niece, and so might be the newest card on this blog. It shows, in the boring style, an expanse of tufted green field, with the 13 spans of the bridge behind, carrying the A4077 across the Usk (Afon Wysg; River Usk) into the town of Crickhowell, and behind that the Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, from whence the town gets its name.

This is an intensely familiar vista for me, since I spent many long holidays in the Brecon Beacons with my family in the 70s and 80s; and my sister now does the same. My family have owned a house, up the A479 in nearby Tretower, since before I was born, and I know the area from before it was the gastropolo mecca that it is now. That’s not really the subject for this blog, which is about images, but maybe for another day. The bridge was built in 1709, and modified up until 1749 (and many times since; I can remember when cars passed on the bridge, and for many years a bailey bridge ran alongside before they installed the traffic lights. This was a feature that my father, an army engineer in Burma in WW2, was never tired of pointing out; and I follow in his tradition).

These vernacular architectures, designed by many other forgotten engineers and architects over the centuries are a largely untold story. Coming from an academic art historical tradition of taxonomies and conaisseurship, I long, Ballard-like, for a typology of these bridges, an analysis of source and influence. It’s amazing to me, especially given where I live now, that these simple structures still carry traffic, and are still known. Crickhowell was the birthplace of Colonel Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India, from whom we get Mount Everest. Names and histories are important.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Cabin in The Woods

FALLINGWATER world-famous masterwork by Frank Lloyd Wright, designed in 1936 for Lilaine S. and Edgar J. Kaufmann. Endowed and given in their memory to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 204 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa 15222. Please call or write: admission by reservation only.
South Elevation/Summer

Despite its aged appearance and style, this is postcard from no later than 1993; nearer 1991, I think, purchased by me and my now wife during one of our road-trips across country when she was at Brown, Rhode Island and needing to get back to Minnesota for the summer. I’m not sure that there’s much more to be said about the insanely ambitious (and largely just insane) Falling Water. It’s actually only a late-period Wright, but for me marks a point where he could have persisted to become a true modernist master rather than dissolving into the twiddlely world-building of the 1950’s. Those two crossed slabs suspended over the water fall in the woods; taking the ‘prairie style’ from out of Chicago and off the prairie and placing it deep in the Pennsylvania woods created a shocking and abstract clash of form and intention that has never been (and possibly) couldn’t be equaled.

Inside, the building’s a mess, dark (especially, I suppose, in the summer), small, cramped and pretty uncomfortable (just like a real cabin!). Outside it’s a surrealist/modernist sublime. Thinking about Albert Speer and his Ruinenwerttheorie, (this is the 30’s after all), one can hardly wait to return one day and see the whole thing collapsed into the rushing water, blocks strewn with weed, amongst a cloud of dragonflies and kingfishers.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

White Jazz

LOS ANGELES CIVIC CENTER
New look from Hollywood Freeway with Los Angeles’ tallest structure, the City Hall 464 ft high, with the Federal Building and the Hall of Justice.
Color photo by Orville Logan Snider C5089
Allard Novelty & Postcard Co. 4626 W Wash Blvd, Los Angeles 16

Another post card to the Bartsch’s in Mankato. Sent Jan 6 1963 from Las Vegas from Kurt, Vi, Gladys, Wally and Hilda. Written in very faint and spidery capitals: HI: WE ARE HAVING A VERY ENJOYABLE TIME. WEATHER IS IDEAL. SAW THE WELK SHOW LAST NIGHT AND ALSO WENT TO THE PALLADIUM BALLROOM. NOW ON OUR WAY TO LAS VEGAS. Links for my non-US readers; fans of mine from the US will already know about the Welk show and North Dakota’s most famous son…

Cars race down the freeway past the LA Civic Center; you almost hear the theme tune to Dragnet. Not much to say about this one, only to observe that America is the country where modernity arrived first. They blazed the trail for all of our futures…and the lesson is that that, no matter how awesome, every present will become a past.

Tagged , , , , ,

In the Time of the Rockets

JOHN F KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
N.A.S.A
Overall Aerial View of MISSILE ROW Looking North.
Launch site of American Astronauts.
NASA TOURS conducted by TWA, P.O. Box 21222, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.106486

This one seems appropriate for the month that Neil Armstrong and Ray Bradbury died. Bradbury used the rocket as an exuberant metaphor to get both his characters and his stories way from Earth, where both narrative and character could be free. Armstrong, a real actor in the drama of the space race was more prosaic and quite clear about his place in history: “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.” While we like to talk about Armstrong as hero, he displayed few of the attributes that one might expect of a hero; indeed he was better exemplified the super-attenuated nullities that crewed the space craft in Kubrick’s 2001, a film where the villainous computer, the spaceship itself, displays more emotion than its victimised human passengers. Armstrong revealed the race to put a man on the moon for what it was; the engineered delivery of the organic guidance system of a three-stage missile to the surface of the moon. Armstrong was simply the tip of the nose-cone of a vast project that had only one goal, like a bullet has only one goal; to deliver itself to its final destination.

The moon landing was a ‘professional achievement’, not an epoch defining miricle, not the beginning of a new age, but an end in itself. The existential nature of the project places it more in the realm of, of course, one of my favourite writer, JG Ballard. In his Memories of The Space Age, astronauts wander confused amongst the deserted 60’s ramblers, swimming pools and abandoned launch gantries of a future Cape Canaveral, where the dream of space, of civilisation itself, has collapsed into a fugue state of languid meaninglessness. When asked about his favourite books, Ballard replied that the LA Phone directory would be all that he would need; the perfect amalgam of obsession, boredom, precision and C20 technology that both exemplifies Armstrong and Missile Row.

Tagged , , ,