I attended the book launch of Murray Ballards ‘On The Prospect of Immortality’ on 17th March at the Pheonix centre in Brighton intrigued to hear the motivations and inspiration for his work on cryogenics. Ballard and his publisher Gordon McDonald from Gost hosted a discussion explaining how the work came together and its journey from idea to press. The event was chaired by the irrepressible Jim Stephenson from Miniclick.
The book has taken Murray Ballard years to complete and is an impressive body of work taken from an ongoing project which started ten years ago. The original inspiration came by way of a newspaper article about Remy Martinot who kept the remains of his parents in a freezer at a Chateau in the Loire Valley France. Remys Father a doctor and a great believer in cryogenics had already frozen his wife in a specially prepared freezer and before his own death left strict instructions to his son to preserve his remains in the same way. Their storage was subsequently paid for by tourists who came to inspect the frozen couple despite an ongoing legal battle with French authorities. The battle came to an untimely head when the freezer broke down and Remy was forced to have his parents cremated.
The book is named after the 1960’s science fiction novel ‘On the Prospect of Immortality’ by Robert C.W. Ettinger which investigates cryogenics, the process of freezing the human body with a view to one-day restoring life and was another major source of inspiration. As a nod to his source, Ballard has given the book the appearance of a 1960’s science book.
I have been aware of Ballard’s work for some time the work has a surprisingly human touch despite its perception of cryogenics as being a clinical and futuristic subject. The work forms a very original series which centres around peoples desire to be frozen for future revival and their struggles in making this happen. This is at times both tragic and comic as much of the Cryogenics verge on the Heath Robinson often being cobbled together homemade affairs as in the case of Martinot. The professional storage facilities such as those in the USA play more to the science fiction perception of cryogenics with its clinical sterile surfaces however even in this environment Ballard has still managed to find a quirk featuring images of people stored upright in sleeping bags.
Branestawm makes a mess, W Heath Robinson, 1933
The book is separated into sections each one has a different story and a different aspect of cryogenics which provides a warmth and a quirkiness despite the subject. The book brings to bear questions regarding our relationship with death and mortality: Do we want to live forever? Is death necessary?
Cryogenics fans such as Ettinger would say that immortality is inevitable.
‘On The Prospect Of Immortality’ is produced and curated by Gost Books. Only 1000 copies went to press because Gost books are project-based carefully curating the work in order to further the photographer’s career.
The talk and work on show are part of the exhibition ‘The New Immortals’ curated by Judith Alder.
Murray Ballard’s work can be seen here:
Teresa Neal 2016
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About the Author
Teresa Neal is an artist photographer, writer and the founder of Maiden Publishing UK.