On Record: Max Kelan
My name is Max Kelan, I am a multidisciplinary artist who predominantly works in music video and video art as well as performing in two bands, Bad Tracking and Salac. In both bands I write and perform original lyrical content as well as using found sound, drum machines, pedals and noise boxes.
The book that has given my practice the most inspiration over the years is J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash. It had an almost revolutionary effect on me when I read it and instantly influenced the way I thought about day to day life (by which I mean what I perceive to be life, the bizarre fractured relationship we have with the real and online world). The dystopian landscapes and tales of sordid, perverse pleasure went hand in hand with the music I was listening to, the music videos I was creating and the music I was planning to make with what would eventually become Bad Tracking.
Bad Tracking is a psycho-sexual industrial two piece featuring myself and Gordon Apps. The aim of the group is to bridge the gap between performance and ‘total action’ art as well as our love of industrial music. Tracking is the maintenance of a constant difference in frequency between two or more connected circuits or components, a process which we interfere with via our performances.
The human obsession with technology is something that has always fascinated as well as frightened me. I have always felt overwhelmed by the speed at which the technological world adapts and changes, leaving us in a confused state until we either internalise its advances or find ourselves left behind. The growth of social media and our addiction to the online world engenders feelings of isolation and confusion and I observed that patterns of destructive behaviour would appear in an individual who is fully immersed in online life.
There are similarities to be drawn from the digital world that surrounds us and the mechanical world Ballard describes in Crash. One obvious comparison is that Ballard talks about the body and interior of cars, the way they feel, smell and look. We can compare this to new phones, laptops and smart devices and the sensual enjoyment of owning these products. These products also enable us to access our sexual desires at the push of a button from pornography, webcam modelling sites, fetish sites as well as being able to find sexual partners on dating websites. Whether we like it or not these activities are met with destructive and addictive tendencies much like what the characters experience in Crash.
In Crash, Ballard’s characters are addicted to the sexual arousal brought on by staging and participating in real life car crashes. Upon meeting Dr. Robert Vaughan, narrator James Ballard is introduced to a group of former car crash victims who stage and re-enact a series of infamous celebrity car crashes. The world Ballard portrays in Crash is not a vision of the future, it is far more familiar, more like an unlocked curiosity that lies beneath the modern subconscious. It’s a view of British life through a perverse, self-destructive lens and also a depiction of a fractured, crumbling manmade landscape that is connected to the mind and body.
Over the years we have been trained to suppress and ignore the rational and negative outcomes that we can expect from our obsession with technology. In modern times we enjoy the feelings of status it gives us from owning the latest gadgets and being a member of society within the online world. We choose to accept this as a luxury as opposed to focusing on the fact that we have become completely reliant on these products and almost totally useless without them. In my work I seek to examine the relationship we have with those objects, which is much like the relationship between Ballard’s characters and the cars which form passive and active props in their sexual adventures.
In the 1971 Crash Short film directed by Harley Cokliss, Ballard draws a comparison between “the marriage of the physical aspects of ourselves to the imaginative and technological aspects of our lives”. As part of Bad Tracking, a large part of my lyrical content explores the theme of our enslavement to technology through body modification and aesthetic personality surgery. My music video practice involves the destruction of old technology through the means of VHS degradation, a process which enacts the discarding of household appliances and objets d’art we have once desired, sometimes obsessively so, much like the trophy cars of Ballard’s world which the characters repurpose and destroy.
One particular music video I produced for the Karen Gwyer single Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase on Don’t Be Afraid featured my own bodily fluids shot under a microscope and then processed through VHS and Adobe Premiere. With this project I wanted to create a piece of art that connected my own body with the technology I was obsessed with, almost replicating intercourse between man and machine in the way Ballard suggests is commonplace amongst us.
Bad Tracking as a spectacle depicts a man reduced almost to the status of an object before technology, the technology which he worships and is willing to do anything for, completely stripped of his dignity, paired with a destructive and industrial soundtrack. I like to think that although it is extreme and shocking to watch, the audience can observe it and catch a glimpse of their own behaviours, and that they can find the concepts of self-destruction through technological addiction relatable and cathartic.
My writing with Bad Tracking and my video production has expanded on, adapted and at times steered away from the concepts in Ballard’s Crash but its themes have always remained an intrinsic part of the roadmap for my work, and as time has gone on our reality resembles the world Ballard imagines more and more closely.
Pics: Hamish Trevis and Cliona Ni Laoi