Vermillion Sands – Alive in Dystopia
“‘Lively responses, aren’t they, Mr. Talbot?’ He put his hand on the wall behind us. The plastex swam and whirled like boiling toothpaste, then extruded itself into a small ledge. Stamers sat down on the lip, which quickly expanded to match the contours of his body, providing back and arm rests.”
Ballard, J. G., The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista, 1962
In 1971 the English novelist James G. Ballard published a collection of short stories entitled Vermillion Sands, which describe an imaginary decaying resort town on the edge of a desert and the lives of the few people inhabiting the place. Each of the chapters follows a different group of characters and their encounters with various kinds of media and technologies. ‘The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista’ for example tells the story of Mrs. and Mr. Talbot and the couple’s experience with a ‘psychotropic house’, which they inhabit. Through continuous exchange with its occupants the building over time learns to evolve its personality and adapt its material structure. Despite its tragic ending, during which the house, enabled through its senso-cells that allow it to read every physical and mental change of its tenants, attempts to kill them in an act of despair and traumatic memories, the notion of a fully responsive, essentially alive building raises a number of highly appealing possibilities. This kind of emotional dilemma is characteristic for Vermillion Sands, which continuously blurs the boundaries between utopia and dystopia, excitement and anxiety, technophilic euphoria and traumatic delusion.
During fall 2016 I ran an elective course at the Dessau International Architecture Graduate School where we read and analysed the various stories of Vermillion Sands to understand the exotic and bizarre landscapes Ballard draws and the methods he uses to engage us in their nightmarish beauty. We then set forth to dream our own dystopian stories, following Ballard’s example and using the structure of the Greek Drama as a base. The results are a collection of short video clips, merging different media and techniques, that represent a compelling yet disturbing, encouraging but thought-provoking, real and fantastic glimpse of a possible near-future.
Linda Parish & Sian Atherton – The Screen City (a sequel to the screen game)
Annie Naughton & Yasmin Eva – Provenance
Nur Aida Ashikin & Chan Hon Yoon – Verdun
Maria-Yoana Nedevsk & Borna Zeljko – Happital: The Hospital of Happiness
Victoria Adames & José Pinto – The Watercolors
Mahmoud Meligy & Reety Lachhman – Colossus: A Short Film
Zak Underwood & Dominic Eley – Chronopolis
Hopeton Bartley – Sunset on the sands