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Viva Paci

Images from the Future: Lost and Found in the Images du Futur collection


Paul Garrin, White Devil, 1992-1993
Paul Garrin, White Devil, 1992-1993
Doug Aberle, Fluffy, 1996
Doug Aberle, Fluffy, 1996
Laura Di Biagio, Race Timed Out, 1990
Laura Di Biagio, Race Timed Out, 1990
The Adventure of Chromie, 1990
The Adventure of Chromie, 1990
[Viva Paci, Images from the Future: Lost and Found in the Images du Futur collection, in Intermédialités, nº 1, 2005; co-edited with the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology.]

The observations to be found in these pages derive from a brief period of time travel, and more precisely in the future, the future of the past. They also imply a certain affinity for archives.

During my residency as a researcher at the Centre for Research and Documentation of the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology in 2004, I explored the documentary collection Images du Futur. With its very promising title, this collection (together with the ramifications that emerged from my research) retraces the adventures of an idea — that of the future — more or less explicitly and consciously.


Images du Futur was the name of an international exhibition "of art, new technologies and communication" (the standard expression employed by the catalogues) that took place in Montreal from 1986 to 1996. Seen by over a million visitors, it featured works by hundreds of artists from some 20 countries and reflected an infatuation, quite characteristic of the 1980s, with a certain way of showcasing the future (see also "Some Ideas of the Future").

I would suggest readers keep in mind, from the very outset, that in the middle of an era of technological development, in the years that saw a boom in video and the spread of "new technologies," Images du Futur reflected a field of novelty and a popular curiosity that were, in fact, more solidly rooted in the existing technology of the 1980s than in some hypothetical future (which signified a major new trend in the representation of the future at that time.) Artworks, viewing devices, commercial projects and digital animations were, without regard to institutional origin, all solicited for Images du Futur (see also "Exhibiting").


If a recent phenomenon sometimes appears to be less well documented than an event from the remote past, this is because the data associated with it have not yet been sifted through the organizing and clarifying memory of the archive. The various paths I am proposing for this site were developed using a documentary collection that preserves what remains of the artefacts shown at Images du Futur; at the same time, they draw on a set of ideas and discourses somewhere between theory and factual accounts that, through the 1980s and 1990s, reflected new trends in communication and the arts. This documentary collection (the source of the images found on this site) contains the materials accumulated by the curators of the exhibition during the 10 years of its existence, as well as in the periods leading up to it and after its closing. It includes about 400 videos, 180 periodicals, 620 monographs, projects by artists and bricoleurs [do-it-yourselfer], letters, portfolios, and so on. I wanted to use this extremely disparate mass of information to forge links, to bring out meanings and (re)construct some of the discourses that run throughout the collection, after having first run through the exhibition itself.


Forging links, chasing down references, imagining contiguities and delineating discontinuities based on the image of the future constructed by the exhibition — these are some of the ways I have gone about creating the Web tours you will find on this site. One of the first things that caught my attention was a type of discourse that accompanied the promotion of the exhibition to the public. Found in the catalogues and advertising materials, it essentially amounted to a sales pitch that went something like this: "Buy a ticket to this exhibition and you will have the privilege of being one of the first to actually see and touch what the future holds in store for you in terms of technology and recreation."

I subsequently discerned another type of discourse in the primary and secondary materials on the works (artists’ portfolios, correspondence between artists and the exhibition describing the proposed works, "résumés" of the works, etc.). This discourse generally tended to stress the novelty of entertaining items or the experimental device of each piece.

These two levels of discourse, from which I have constructed certain paths, were rooted in the fertile soil of discourses on the new media that were just then invading the social sciences and usurping the places of history and the philosophy of technique, at a time when authors like Couchot and Manovich (1) became the reigning authorities.

(VIII) pars pro toto

It is in the light of the foregoing that Images du Futur may rightly be considered as wholly exemplary of the final decades of the 20th century — a period rich in experimentation (using the new technologies) and institutional overlaps (drawing upon the worlds of science, technology, industry, communication and art).

In each section of this site, I have isolated certain basic features of Images du Futur and its works, showing how they relate to other manifestations and tendencies of the period. Also to be found there are themes that extend through and beyond the exhibition, focuses for reflection and research that enable us to observe the early days of modernism as we know it.

Beneath the surface...

Underlying my work is the observation that the periods preceding the institutionalization of media practices are similar. In particular, the "digital revolution" — the vagueness of the discourse surrounding this expression justifies the quotation marks, and all the more so since I do not intend to delineate and resolve the issue in the upcoming pages—seems to me to echo another revolutionary moment in media history dating back a century. I refer here to the coming of cinematography. Above and beyond the historical and technological differences between these two moments, the main features they have in common have enabled me to identify some core aspects of the event and commencement I am studying here (see also "Installations/Attractions" and "Cinematographic Traces").

We have two fins-de-siècle then — those of the 19th and 20th centuries — with each ushering in a new visual regime, a new way of producing moving images, a change in the conditions of image reproduction (first by printing and then by modelling) and new conditions of reception for viewers.

The development of the film apparatus and of the industrial production of digital imagery followed in the wake of research activities that were both scientifically and commercially motivated. And both developments took place largely within the domain of the performing arts.

Cinematography carved out a place for itself at the juncture of several institutions (photography, the performing arts, the spectacle of fairground attractions, technical and scientific expositions), as did digital imagery — as we shall see particularly in our sampling from Images du Futur.

A certain fetishistic interest in inventors and/or inventions and a pronounced penchant for novelty, prototypes and gadgets have been operative in both spheres. This comparison formed the hypothetical backdrop to my study of Images du Futur, until it finally became a finding underlying the focuses for reflection and research that I am proposing for this site. (2)


Since no organizing historiographic and archival memory was available to shed some light on the period that saw the emergence of the "new technologies" — a period I poured over in my initial enthusiasm for novelty — help came mainly from discussions with my extraordinary fellow travellers and colleagues. I would therefore like to thank Vincent Bonin (CR+D, FDL), André Habib (Université de Montréal) and Eric Legendre (CR+D, FDL) for their kind attentions. I obviously also wish to thank the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology for its generous hospitality, as well as my friends at the Centre for Research and Documentation for their precious support (particularly Andréane Leclerc for her reassuring presence, and Ludovic Carpentier for his views).

Feedback from André Gaudreault, Silvestra Mariniello and Éric Méchoulan also had a decisive influence on the final shape this site would take.

Viva Paci © 2005 FDL

(1) Edmond Couchot, “Synthèse et simulation: l'autre image,” Hors cadre, no. 6 (March 1988); Lev Manovich, “What is Digital Cinema?” Telepolis [online], (1996):

(2) Some of the research avenues presented in this and other sites, which stem from Ms. Paci's research residency at the Foundation, have been the focus of a number of publications: "Anticiper les mutations. Le cas d'Images du Futur (Montréal 1986-1996)", in Médiamorphoses, "D'un média l'autre", nº 16, to be published in April 2006. "Toccare immagini di futuro : confusioni istituzionali e futuri multisensoriali", in I Cinque sensi del cinema/The Five Senses of Cinema, Udine, Forum, 2005, p. 477-482. "Recherché : images d’avenir pour nouveaux spectateurs" in Comunicazioni Sociali, "Civiltà delle macchine. Il cinema italiano e le sue tecnologie", vol. XXVI, nº 1, January-April 2004, p. 133-143. "I have seen the Future. Projection sur la ville", in Cahiers du GERSE, "Un monde merveilleux... Dispositifs, hétérotopies et représentations chez Disney", nº 6, Autumn 2004, p. 131-144.