The Prospect of Immortality by Murray Ballard – Side Gallery, Newcastle

The Prospect of Immortality is a contemporary project exploring the process of cryogenics (the preservation of the human body after death in liquid nitrogen in the hope of future advances to bring them back to life). Ballard takes the viewer on a visual journey around the world, meeting the people who are pioneering the process and those who want to be involved.

Ballard’s work is inspired by literature, and takes on a very clinical approach. Robert Ettinger is deemed the founder of the concept of cryonics; therefore his book (also titled The Prospect of Immortality) forms the grounding for both the process and the exploration of it carried out by Ballard. The Side Gallery claims that Ballard takes and ‘objective’ stance in order to let the viewers develop their own connection with the morals explored in this work.

The presentation of the work is crucial to both engage the viewer and to convey the message across. Ballard displays the work printed large scale and mounted onto dibond. This clinical feel was selected purposely to reflect the clinical nature of the process and the people that are soon to become a part of it. The large scale, unframed prints allow the viewer to almost step into the images, showing every last detail as though you are looking through a window.

When viewing this work, there are no written statements next to the prints – however there is an audio narrative. This introduction of technology is keeping in line with the idea of technological and scientific advances. This can also be interpreted in another way. The written word is less human, although a person wrote it, a connection will develop further if the word is spoken; displaying the human behind the process. Another interpretation is that although the work is not intending to persuade towards or against the process, we as humans respond to the tone of a persons voice and much like religion, the spoken word could represent an almost religious preaching – encouraging support and highlighting the negatives.

Facing the concept of death is an unpleasant sensation, and it’s one that Roland Barthes explores in his theories surrounding the photographic image and it’s effect. Barthes explores how we can be moved by the image, in his text Camera Lucida and how the photographic image is made up of two parts; the punctum and the studium. When viewing this image the framing and the places are familiar, however when viewing a select few images I feel punctum. The studium and punctum are always at play in every photograph, and are very much subjective. The studium is what draws you into the photograph (such as a lush palette or a beautiful scene). On the other hand the punctum is the element that disturbs this balance, interrupting it and causing pain (like a prick or a bruise). I feel comfort looking into Ballard’s photographs due to their inviting nature. However, I experience the punctum when I notice a body bag or a coffin, as this reminds me of death; which is not a comfortable thought.

Ballard’s work has enticed me to think about the position of photography along side the advancement of technology. As photography is it’s self always developing, we are aging and may not see in years to come what photography as a medium has to offer or the artists practicing it. This is what intrigues me about the concept cryogenics. However, the way in which Ballard discusses the topic in a sophisticated manner has triggered me to think about photography and my position in it in a whole other way.


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