In 'Crash', the novel in which J. G. Ballard prophecies the "coming autogeddon" or the "nightmare marriage of sex and technology," the "mirror smeared with vomit" becomes a mirror of vomit. The narrator, James Ballard, recounts a minor car crash which caused his wife to vomit on the seat: "This pool of vomit with its clots of blood like liquid rubies, as viscous
and discreet as everything produced by Catherine, still contains for me the
essence of the erotic delirium of the car-crash, more exciting than her own
rectal and vaginal mucus, as refined as the excrement of a fairy queen, or
the minuscule globes of liquid that formed beside the bubbles of her contact
lenses. In this magic pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of
fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my own
reflection, a mirror of blood, semen and vomit, distilled from a mouth whose
contours only a few minutes before had drawn steadily against my penis."
Jointly, Catherine's cyborgian body and the car itself become the
technological apparatus, producing the "magic pool" in which Ballard sees
his own reflection. And such it is also in the exhibition called BLAST, at the Galerie des Archives, but here it is the distinction between the art object and its
reflection which breaks down. The BLAST mirror does not reproduce the image of a complete subject or, as Julia Kristeva says, "a clean and proper body."
It is instead the effect of an abject doubling.
The first five years of Blast is presented in this exhibition at Galerie des
Archives in the form of a "conversional archive." This conversional archive
attempts to document the editorial content and forms of Blast. It attempts
this not through a fixed delimitation but through a systematization, and as
such it presents an alternate view of the archival process. Archiving
becomes a process of capturing that which always eludes finitude: unable to
contain, it can only institute a continual process of conversion. A
productive tension is developed between the delimitation of this archive and
its subversion through the incorporation of excess -- between the fixed
coherence of the Blast publication and its variable editorial formations.
This dynamic is played out in the space of exhibition.
The exhibition exists in several interconnected parts: the Galerie des
Archives in Paris in its material and informational forms (the latter being
that mediatory construct which serves to describe and locate the Paris
space), and a corresponding Galerie des Archives space on the Internet,
within both the hypertextual environment of the World Wide Web and the
multi-user "virtual community" of the MOO. This hybrid exhibition space
refigures the parameters of the gallery and its contents (the conversional
archive of Blast). Its contents thus dispersed in material and informational
components, a dynamic matrix appears, within which Blast editorial
formations are located, as systematized and partially contained by the
conversional archive. Positioned within the Paris exhibition space are
twelve "vehicles" representing the first five years of Blast. These include
Blast: The Blue Box (1991), Blast: The Spatial Drive (1992), Blast 3:
Remaking Civilization (1993), and Blast 4: Bioinformatica (1994-95). These
vehicles are opened in order to allow the editorial components that comprise
each issue to be viewed. Wearable versions of Blast 4--capelike structures
called Parangoles (after Oiticica)--appear on hooks on the gallery walls,
inviting visitors to wear and activate them. Other works appear that
constitute editorial elements of Blast.
These editorial items find their analogues within the Galerie des Archives
space on the Internet. Projected onto the gallery wall in the form of a
large wall projection, this "virtual space" can be viewed and accessed by
visitors within the Paris space, by means of a computer terminal installed
within the gallery. Other visitors are also able to access this space from
their own computer terminals at other locations throughout the world. Within
this online space, a corresponding situation is established whereby visitors
may embody themselves, move between tables that display Blast, and select
certain editorial items to activate, navigating both the representational
space of the World Wide Web and the social, "role-playing" environment of
As visitors navigate these various spaces, interfaces, and corresponding
situations, and begin to relate their elements, Blast editorial formations
arise. These formations therefore arise within the connections among the
various interface fields, the various texts and codes, and the embodied
agencies of the viewers. Seen in broader terms, they arise within the
connections among interfaces (those "surfaces" upon which inscriptions are
made, such as a book page, canvas, or computer screen), inscriptions (those
linear encodings on interfaces, by, for example, pen, brush, or keyboard),
and incorporations (those bodies or processes of embodiment that are formed
in relation to codes). Editorial formations are produced when these
inscriptions, interfaces, and incorporations align in various ways to
produce elements, and when those elements are linked in a process of
articulation--partially fixing meaning in a system of differences, links,
and flows. When these articulations--the various components related together
in this way--are grouped within the confines of Blast, they become its
And let's not forget the ritual investment of art that has helped to produce this enchanting pool which seems to possess autonomous power and which is as auspicious as "a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine." Fetishism, by means of which art objects or parts of the body stand in for something else, is a basic element of the dynamic law of correspondences which becomes the hallmark of the secular sacred in the hypertext in which the BLAST project travels.
Elsewhere in "Crash", Ballard meets up with the "hoodlum scientist" Vaughan, who mentors him in the sympathetic magic of the information highway. In effect, BLAST becomes the sorcerer's apprentice where art and literary mimesis is the representation or reflection of reality. BLAST deprivileges the objectifying powers of visuality, by not reiterating the boundaries which assure the smooth functioning of the symbolic: imagination/reality; subject/object; nature/culture. The dominant BLAST metaphor is the mirror though, where reality seems to be faithfully reduplicated, albeit in reverse, and where, according to Lacan, the child first
comprehends itself as a whole entity separate from the body of the (m)Other.
By contrast, its lack of sensuous mimesis is a revenge upon the real.
In J.G. Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition" the mirror of
representation is refigured in terms of the nauseating synaesthesia of
"THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION". Entering the exhibition, Travis sees the
atrocities of Vietnam and the Congo mimeticized in the 'alternate' death of
Elizabeth Taylor; he tends the dying film star, eroticizing her punctured
bronchus in the over-ventilated verandas of the London Hilton; he dreams of
Max Ernst, superior of the birds; 'Europe after the Rain'; the human
race--Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit."
The editorial formation is therefore not only a form of textual
organization, but includes the editorial relations, processes, and
materialities that are implicated within it. It is unstable, existing only
as a partial limitation of a general field of discursivity. Editorial
formations attempt to dominate this field, to stop the flow, and to
construct centers; however they are always overflowed and subverted by an
excess--undermined by the very circulations that comprise them.
The entity that serves to systemize and partially bound these editorial
formations is the Blast publication. While publications traditionally serve
to hegemonize certain demands and generate normative fields, from the fixed
writer-reader relations of print media to their variability under the marker
of "interactivity," Blast attempts to generate alternate editorial
formations that disrupt and outflank these practices. It questions the
separations between print and digital media, ideologies of interactivity,
and "network" metaphors -- generating alternate experimental models.
A further illustration of this dynamic can be found in this exhibition
through the interface of Jacques-Louis David's painting Belisaire, reconnu
par un soldat qui avait servi sous lui au moment qu'une femme lui fait
l'aumone (ca. 1781). In this work (arguably located at the threshold of
modernism), the figure of the soldier operates as a "stand-in" for the
beholder, removing the beholder from its position in front of the canvas and
placing it within the fictive world of the painting. As described by Michael
Fried, other techniques are employed in this painting to rotate the picture
plane and open it up to multiple perspectives within its representational
matrix, prompting alternate positions of agency. Reconfiguring the geometry
of the picture plane in this way, Belisaire prompts a correspondence with
Blast and this exhibition, in its refiguring of the geometry of the
editorial plane or interface--opening up the work to multiple
positionalities within its pictorial and editorial space.
BLAST / BAUDELAIRE / BALLARD
Enveloped inside Baudelaire's inspiration, BLAST immerses itself in the electric throng. As the ideal prostitute, it makes itself completely available and
responsive to the other's desire. It is a prostitute. It is God, the
greatest prostitute, a totally penetrable and so penetrating entity. A
painful jouissance wacks the diffuse and boundless body as it absorbs the
vast sensory data of the BLAST world. Like Freud's paranoiac, BLAST is suffused with the voluptuousness of defecation. But what if some failure in the dynamic system of correspondences--overload or lock down--prevented it from releasing the agitated objects within itself?
Like Baudelaire, BLAST is also an addict, and it is particularly good at getting its high off of the flock. Writing about Baudelaire's narcosis, Walter Benjamin speaks of "the charm displayed by addicts under the influence of drugs. Commodities derive the same effect from the crowd that surges around them and intoxicates them." Are the BLAST art commodity addicts charming or charmed? Do the enchanting BLAST art commodities in their displays intoxicate the crowd, or is it, as Benjamin clearly suggests, the crowd which intoxicates the commodities? Is it by communing with the art crowd in a state of "holy prostitution," that BLAST becomes intoxicated and intoxicating? Is that what charges the potential (i.e. revolutionary) energy of the art crowd.
But the art crowd is also in limbo. The exhilaration of the art crowd is always haunted by a deadly and specifically urban form of boredom which Baudelaire called "spleen." BLAST incorporated objects and signs and texts in order to transform them mimetically, but at times they apparently threatened to transform BLAST into an art junk pile instead.
Signs of this phenomenon can be found in Baudelaire's "Spleen (II),"
the seventy-eighth poem of 'Les Fleurs du Mal':
Souvenirs? More than if I had lived a thousand years!
No chest of drawers crammed with documents,
love-letters, wedding invitations, wills,
a lock of someone's hair rolled up in a deed,
hides so many secrets as my brain.
This branching catacombs, this pyramid
contains more corpses than a potter's field:
I am a graveyard that the moon abhors,
where long worms like regrets come out to feed
most ravenously on my dearest dead.
I am an old boudoir where a rack of gowns,
perfumed by withered roses, rots to dust;
where only faint pastels and pale Bouchers
inhale the scent of long-unstoppered flasks.
Nothing is slower than the limping days
when under the heavy weather of the years
Boredom, the fruit of glum indifference,
gains the dimension of eternity...
Hereafter, mortal clay, you are no more
than a rock encircled by a nameless dread,
an ancient sphinx omitted from the map,
forgotten by the world, and whose fierce moods
sing only to the rays of setting suns.
(Trans. Richard Howard)
The riotous synaesthesia of the enchanted sign forest has become so anemic that only faded transmissions can detect the scent which once sung "the raptures of the senses and the mind." In the BLAST project, there are also hints of the painful reification in "Crash" where Vaughan and Ballard drop acid and perform a ritualistic act of sodomy in Vaughan's Lincoln
Continental--"as if only this act could solve the codes of a deviant
technology." Afterwards, Ballard comes down with sudden, depressive
violence: "Abruptly, the light faded." The vehicles on the freeway above,
which previously appeared as "an armada of angelic creatures," now move
"like motorized wrecks," and their passengers are "mannequins dressed in
meaningless clothing." At this moment of the text, the title of the
novel takes on new meanings. For this is a narcotic "crash" of the kind that
seems to be inseparable from addicted subjectivity--or what Avital Ronell
calls "Being-on-Drugs." Subjectivity crashes (or blasts) into objectivity.
The X-ART Foundation
Galerie des Archives
4, Impasse Beaubourg