Matthew Richardson

The Deserted Laboratory: The Para-illustration of JG Ballard


Situated in the field of expanded illustration, this practice-based research project explores and utilizes the original autographic manuscripts of the writer JG Ballard (1930-2009) to develop new and experimental strategies for visualizing and adapting Ballard’s writing in the 21st Century – something built from Ballard’s originary texts, something non-linear, fragmentary and fluid – situated between fact and fiction, the virtual and the real, and the screen and the body.

JG Ballard was associated with the New Wave of science fiction in the 1950s, post-apocalyptic novels in the 1960s and social dystopian fiction in the 1970s 80s, 90s and 2000s. His writing deals with the psychological effects of technology, society and the environment. The Ballardian ‘image’ has become known through book covers, documentaries, films and art projects. These known images, some of which have become iconic, are often (and obviously) linked to a definition of ‘Ballardian’, a term which the OED associates with dystopian man-made landscapes and events, and the psychological effects of technology as key components. The term ‘Ballardian’ offers a visual entry point, but it can also create a certain expectation of approach and an aesthetic straight jacket.

At the core of the research is the forensic and material examination of JG Ballard’s autographic manuscripts, held in the British Library. The manuscripts are the first stages in the process of some of Ballard’s best-known works. Pages are typed, re-typed and altered, words are underlined and crossed out – indexical marks to be deciphered. The manuscripts are ‘sites’ that can be both excavated and built upon and offer opportunities for new insights, through comparison with their known and published counterparts. The research attempts to reveal some of what is ‘lost’, or ‘hidden’ and examines what role illustration has to an ‘incomplete’ or ‘fragmented’ literary text.

The project explores the relationship between a ‘script’ and its ‘image’ and uses methodologies that foreground structural, spatial, temporal and intertextual approaches to translating word into image. Two manuscripts of JG Ballard’s are used as case studies: The Drowned World (1962, Add MS 88938/3/4) and High Rise (1975, Add MS 88938/3/10). The research involves the design and application of probes and systems to interrogate the autographic manuscripts to provide material for the production of new multi-dimensional images, animations and assemblages – evidencing the results of a system-based approach to reading and translating the manuscripts.

In going back to first origins of the known texts, I argue that the autographic manuscripts offer a new way for practitioners and Ballard scholars to think about process and method in the visualisation of JG Ballard’s work. The manuscripts which have been held at the British Library since 2010 provide a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the create process of JG Ballard and also to be utilised as a kind of Ballardian machine – producing results that move beyond a particular stylisation, yet might still be proposed as authentically ‘Ballardian’.

By connecting the remnants and marginalia to metaphors and narrative devices of the autographic text, the research proposes the notion of ‘para-illustration’ – not simply a supplement or completion of the text in visual form, but an intervention that reveals the absences and remains as a new Ballardian literary landscape.

Keywords: JG Ballard, Ballardian, Expanded Illustration, Literary Manuscripts

Author Bio

Matthew Richardson originally studied Graphic Design (BA) at Middlesex University, followed by Illustration (PG) at Central St. Martins, and Fine Art (MA) at UWIC, Cardiff. His practice is diverse and uses photography, film, sound, assemblage and collage to investigate how narratives shift in their construction and re-telling and through changes in time and context, often explored across visual and narrative forms – object-book-print-sound-film.

He has created work across differing publishing, exhibition and design contexts. Commissions include projects with the V&A, British Library, Folio and the Poetry Society and work has been shown at Tactile Bosch, g39 and Oriel Davies and most recently in ‘Adaptation’ at Transition Gallery and ‘Strange Pilgrimage’ at The Beaney, Canterbury. Matthew has lectured at art colleges across the UK, most recently at Norwich University of the Arts and the RCA.

Twitter: @MatthewRubble

Instagram: @MatthewRubble

Project Hashtag on IG: #iunderlinethethingsyoushouldkeep