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Literary classic given artistic reworking in Mapping the Drowned World

28 September 2015
Sci-fi novel at the heart of new exhibition

Fans of JG Ballard's cult sci-fi novel The Drowned World can experience its post-apocalyptic themes in visual form at a new exhibition, Mapping the Drowned World, opening at SCA Galleries next week.

Tracey Clement with her work ‘Post-Premonitionism 2’, part of Mapping the Drowned World. Photo: Isobel Markus

Six Australian artists including Bulgari award-winning painter Jon Cattapan have joined forces to give vision to the dystopic opus, penned in 1962 against the backdrop of the Cold War’s end-of-the-world fears.

Set in the distant future, at a time when global warming has submerged London into a tropical wasteland overrun by carnivorous reptiles, The Drowned World reads as an eerily prescient warning of our current climate crisis, said exhibition coordinator Tracey Clement.

"Despite being published more than 50 years ago, in an uncanny way The Drowned World seems to have predicted climate change," said Ms Clement, who put the exhibition together as part of her PhD at the University of Sydney.

Thanks to the book, I've known my entire adult life that humanity may indeed self-destruct, but with patient omnipotence the rest of the natural world will somehow survive.
Tracey Clement

Working across media, the artists have teased out their own interpretations of the influential novel. The exhibition includes paintings by Jon Cattapan, sculptures by South Australian artist Roy Ananda, a video by Kate Mitchell, photographs by Janet Tavener and digital collages by Gosia Wlodarczak.

Ms Clement's own contribution to the show is a starkly beautiful sculptural installation, which allows to audiences walk through a surreal ruined city landscape of steep mountain peaks made from salt and rusted steel. Each spike took four months to create, and stands up to two metres tall.

"By having the peaks at eye level, it stares you straight in the face. It reminds you that this catastrophe didn’t just happen by itself," said Ms Clement.

"Many people are overwhelmed by climate change; we're bombarded with these facts and figures and it all points to disaster. It's a bit too much to take in.

"But what art can do – in the same way as novels – is bring you to those same conclusions but by a different method, in more engaging and accessible ways. Science fictions can be just as educational and inspirational as science facts." 

Mapping the Drowned World will be presented at SCA Galleries from 8 to 31 October 2015.

Exhibition details

What: Mapping the Drowned World
When: Opening reception: Wednesday 7 October, 6pm to 8pm. Exhibition runs from 8 to 31 October, opening hours 11am to 5pm
Where: SCA Galleries, Building 29, Sydney College of the Arts, Balmain Road, Rozelle
Cost: Free

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