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Viva Paci

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


Perry Hoberman, Faraday's Garden, 1993
Perry Hoberman, Faraday's Garden, 1993 Eric Staller, Deborah Staller, Urban UFOs, Octo, 1993
Eric Staller, Deborah Staller, Urban UFOs, Bubbleboat, 1993 (video)
Eric Staller, Deborah Staller, Urban UFOs, Bubbleboat, 1993 (video)
Installations: Narratives or fairground attractions?

The range of devices exhibited at Images du Futur included video installations. There is nothing very surprising in this fact since the 1980s and 1990s were marked by a rapid increase in the number of video installations produced. But nothing in the way that video was treated in Images du Futur would suggest any special prominence attaching to this type of installation, which had indeed become extremely popular. The videos featured in the exhibition were presented on the same plane as other types of installations that did not involve any projection or transmission of images. Already in those years, video-makers frequently found themselves raised to the rank of artist and accepted in such art channels as galleries and museums. Alongside them at Images du Futur, and enjoying the same status, we find "technological bricoleurs" who were also deemeed to be creators and artists. A sort of homogenization had occurred, one in which a work like Perry Hoberman’s Faraday's Garden (1993) (1) — an interactive installation that did not employ video as its main medium, but was a "surround environment" made up of household and office appliances, lighting arrangements and noises activated by the weight of visitors’ feet on pressure-sensitive carpet — sparked the same level of interest among visitors as Paul Garrin’s White Devil (1992-1993), an interactive video installation. Moreover, in the exhibition and presentation choices at Images du Futur, one does not find any genre or class divisions between video installations and the devices of wildly eccentric inventors (see also "Exhibiting").

One characteristic that appears to foster a better understanding of the coherence of the body of works presented at Images du Futur, is the fact that the installations presented there, whether small or "surround" environments, and whether videographic or mechanical, were meant to surprise the viewer. But this was not a criterion in other institutional contexts that might want to present the same works. The goal was, then, more to surprise than to narrate or tell, even when an installation was capable of generating a narrative. In White Devil, for example, as was often the case with video installations, it was the visitor who activated the narrative through his or her interaction with the work (see also "Exhibiting" and "Spectacle and Control").

Video installations often come with a narrative component, and narrative constructions arise mainly from those in which each part is designed to be interactive. An action within an interactive framework produces a chain reaction that unfolds over time according to the sensation-emotion-action sequence typical of narrative structure. At a more basic level, the simple act of walking through the sections of the installation creates a series of images, a kind of montage that occurs in the exhibition space and over the time required to walk through and take in the work. As a result, another elementary narrative form may emerge: as events succeed one another in a temporal chain, viewers habitually attempt to weave causal links into this succession of planes. A certain degree of narration, or a narrative power, may then be actualized within the very structure of the video installation. For example, visitors have no trouble finding narratives in the video installations of Pipilotti Rist and Doug Aitken.

However, the installations selected for Images du Futur steered away from this narrative vein, coming across instead like curiosity items in a Wunderkammer where each piece is presented as the work of a creator or artist, not simply that of an inventor (as we have already seen, the technological bricoleur was already considered to be an artist.) The narrative power of video installations was siphoned off in Images du Futur, where every find was presented as an extravagant and technologically sophisticated device made unique by the artist’s signature.

While Faraday's Garden and White Devil were activated and modified (and generated meaning) as visitors proceeded though them, they were exhibited and exploited at Images du Futur not for their capacity to produce a narrative, but to draw viewers’ attention in a fragmentary manner as they jumped from one astonishing fact to another. In the exhibition’s installations, whether or not these were video installations, the effect of surprise could operate in the aggressive mode, as in the case of White Devil, or in a fairytale-like manner, as with the Urban UFO series. Or it might also be designed to produce a shock on the moral system, as in the case of Alexander’s holographs. (2) An exemplary instance of this was Horrors of War (1991), where a battered soldier, a skeleton caught in barbed wire, pointed his rifle at visitors, cutting into the surrounding space with the unsettling three-dimensional quality of the holograph. Holograms invade the viewer’s space by acquiring volume, which in turn allows them to "touch" the viewer, as it were, using the power of shock and emotion. That these risk becoming all the more intense should be clear from a consideration of Alexander’s imagination — he has declared in several interviews that he wants to push the borders of science back to the point where it becomes art — which accompanies the horrors of war with images of car crashes and the crucified Christ.

At Images du Futur, visitors were not told stories about the future; rather, they moved from shock to shock, amused, surprised and touched by images stolen from a future already foretold.

Occasionally, the works presented at Images du Futur also extended beyond the space of the exhibition proper: such was the case, for example, with some of the Urban UFOs by Eric and Deborah Staller, which wandered through the streets of Montreal’s Old Port close to the exhibition venue. Urban UFO is, in fact, a series of mobile installations (the first, Lightmobile, dates from 1985, and the most recent, Mr. President, from 2003) designed to be shown on city streets. Staller calls this type of installation "mobile public art."

Octos, one of the Urban UFOs, is a circular bicycle that seats eight passengers, who face one another; everyone pedals, but only one person drives. The passengers’ black and white outfits heighten the strangeness of this urban UFO. (In 1996, Staller produced another multicycle, the ConferenceBike, which he presented as a new way to hold work meetings. It is currently sold on the Internet.) Staller prefers to see this particular Urban UFO as a "metaphor for communication," the communication of information and the transportation of human beings. Behind Staller’s metaphor, one fact is clear: when the Urban UFOs crisscross a zone of a large city, they create the impression of a village — of a gathering of astonished individuals who address each other with phrases like, "Did you see that?" and "What is that?" Staller thus transforms a city into a gallery for his works.

By frequently playing with electrical circuits and lighting effects in his works, Staller creates for the viewer a fairytale atmosphere combining art, magic and technology. Like a street magician crying "Now you see it, now you don’t," Staller declares: "It is magical, elusive, ephemeral, it’s there, it’s not there. I can make something materialize or dematerialize depending on how I use the light." It is, then, a matter of astonishing people by means of technology, providing them with a spectacle that is captivating in that it cannot be entirely explained. Urban UFO expeditions have sometimes led to episodes of public (dis)order, as was the case with Bubbleboat, a semi-spherical craft covered with blinking coloured bulbs that was stopped by the New York coast guard because its navigation lights did not conform to regulations.

Viva Paci © 2005 FDL

(1) Some pictures of viewers making their way through Faraday's Garden are available at:

(2) Holography is a three-dimensional photographic procedure using coherent light properties (interferences produced by two laser beams) which give a perfect duplicate of the object recorded thanks to the encoding of light. Whereas photographs are taken using daylight, laser light is indispensible for creating a hologram. Ordinary light is made up of a flux of photons having highly variable characteristics and emitted a variable times. The laser, on the other hand, emits a coherent beam of light, meaning that it is monochromatic (all the photons have the same frequency or colour), that the waves have the same direction (spatial coherence) and are in phase (temporal coherence). A holograph is created by having two beams of coherent light from the same laser intersect on a plate coated with a photographic emulsion. The first beam, or reference beam, is directed at the plate, while the second is directed at the object to be transformed into a hologram. The object deflects all the light directed at it toward the surface of the emulsified plate. The convergence of the two beams creates an interference pattern that conveys information about the shape of the object and its position in space. After development, the plate is illuminated using a laser beam arriving at the same angle as the reference beam. The object is thereby reconstructed in three-dimensional space; its volume is imparted by light. Thus, starting with a reference wave, a holograph recreates an object’s characteristic wave without involving it in visualization. Excerpted, with slight modifications, from: