Generally speaking, hypotheses about the presence of technology in our future have given rise to two types of scenarios: 1) the technology of the future will help us; 2) the technology of the future will make prisoners of us. Historically, the second scenario has represented a sort of deterioration of the first, one stretching from the affable "telephonoscope" of Albert Robida (1848-1926) and the other technological marvels described in his book The Twentieth Century
(1883), all the way up to the evil automatons of I-Robot
(Alex Proyas, 2004).
Within the framework of an exhibition and demonstration venue like Images du Futur
, discourse about the new technologies of the future tends to be relentlessly optimistic. Indeed, aside from a few awkward moments encountered in descriptions of some of the works in the catalogue (see also "Flashforward"
), there were very few forays into sci-fi horror. Nonetheless, a certain degree of ambivalence did seem to take shape. What I am referring to is more than a continuous shifting between a society characterized by excessive displays of technology (where people may be fascinated by the beauty
of a laser beam) and a society that, thanks to technology, is more and more in control of all its parts ("in control" also means that this same society is obviously controled). The figures suggested by the system
, its information overload and the incipient accuracy of its simulations, are, on the one hand, the excessive degree of control that technology may allow and, on the other hand, what one could call its spectacular dimension, or what is marketed as such.
Thus parts of Images du Futur
were often devoted to control devices. In 1994, it was domotics
, with home ovens that knew when to cook a soufflé, washing machines that selected the proper wash and rinse cycles for cashmere sweaters, and so on. In 1991, it was visionary medical science
, with its scanography, magnetic image resonancing, scintigraphy, radiography, endoscopy, echography, terminography, and so on. In 1993, we tuned in to micro-observations on the beginnings of life
on veritable "reality TV" shows that taught us everything we ever wanted to know about our ovums amd their friends, the spermatozoons. The discovery of the universe
came about in 1992, with satellite images for controlling the "satellite" that governs the Earth. Many are those who have adopted this interpretive strategy, which considers technology as existing somewhere between real progress and control. In an example closer to our own time, Jean Gagnon has pointed out that "the new digital technologies, like all our communications technologies, walk a thin line between surveillance and control, on the one hand, and liberation and free expression, on the other." (1)
And since the milieu supplied ways of thinking about control through this predominantly spectacular display of the future, many of the works in Images du Futur
offered very developed arguments in this regard. One of the works exhibited in 1994, Paul Garrin’s video installation White Devil
, dealt explicitly with the fluid boundaries between control and the spectacle. In this piece, Garrin reflected on the "society of control" and the perverse power of surveillance. In the framework of this installation, viewers could observe the interactive environment he had designed, while at the same time being "observed" by it. Video cameras connected to a computer spied on them as they came and went, and their movements in turn determined what happened in a video featuring a ferociously barking dog. They moved through a corrider bordered by a trench where an unbroken series of monitors showed the image of an enraged pit bull who followed each new arrival’s every step. Viewers were consequently terrorized and kept away from the video image, which showed, in the background behind the guard dog, a car and a villa in flames. Interactivy was put to quite a spectacular and compelling use in this piece, where each step the viewer took was matched by some constraint on movement or action. (see also "Exhibiting"
and "Cinematographic Traces"
The idea of control was fleshed out yet again in Bériou’s short feature Ex Memoriam
, an official entry in the International Computer Animation Competition
of the 1993 instalment of Images du Futur
. This shows a nightmare world in which digitized images of the human body twist into disturbing mechanisms that serve as a backdrop for a voice-over on the creation of machines that store and control memory.
The spectacle of simulation
Simulation systems, for their part, constitute a veritable heuristic method of exercising control. Before we can simulate a phenomenon (i.e. give it visualize form), we must study it and learn how to control it, whether it is a cancer cell, a tornado, a climate change, the integration of a building into a given environment, the flight of an airplane, and so on. In each of these cases, the visualization of the simulation can be displayed, either for its "fortune-telling capicity," or by the extraordinary character of the technology involved. This way of giving simulation a spectacular character was not a concern only for Images du Futur: Climax
, presented at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie at La Villette in Paris, is a scientific simulation of anticipated climate changes. Its audience includes just as many Sunday thrill seekers as it does people with educational and scientific interests. I will say in passing that simulations of natural phenomena are a much-exploited genre. For example, the International Computer Animation Competition
of the 1990 instalment of Images du Futur
included numerous simulations carried out by the Visualization Services and Development Group of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. In one instance, after a brief "reality TV" moment in which two scientists were shown chasing down an actual tornado in their automobile, viewers saw a quick cut to a second scene in Study of a Numerically Modeled Severe Storm
, where digital images were employed to model, explain and study the behaviour of the tornado. The same holds for Smog: Visualizing the Components
, with animations that are straight out of the medical imagination; or for the skin and the circulation of the blood as featured in Atelier Bister’s The Process of Wound Healing
, presented in 1991. Finally, there were the animations that simulate the creatures of Lost Animals
, a series realized by New York’s HD/CG, and which classified prehistoric animals using a Darwinian typology in order to deduce factors like motor patterns and morphology. The model is inexhaustible; scientific research has only to continue to produce its forecasts.