The Rumour of True Things

By Elizabeth Eversole, 10 June 1996

Pandaemonium festival at London's ICA.

" we are no longer concerned with an image at all in the representational, artistic, illustrative meaning of the term; it is a question of another light, an electronic light, can no longer conceive of space, whether it is living space, town space, or even the space of the entire territory, without this new lighting...these images make us see the is no longer sunlight, it is electronic light...that of the instantaneous interface between the here and now, in the television set or the vision monitor...One is therefore in another system of light."

Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine

Pandaemonium screens "The rumour of true things" a film by Paul Bush

For seven days and nights I seldom saw sunlight as I sat through hundreds of films in the Pandaemonium festival recently held at London's ICA lured me into darkened rooms with a programme of current multi-media and cyber technologies along with experimental film and video from around the world. Over time it became apparent, although a cybercafe was set up inviting us to free-surf on the net, that "cyber" was a hip prefix to somehow radicalise the festival's events. In doing so, the possible dialogue between cinema and the "cyber" was left stranded on the wayside. Nevertheless, on the last night of the festival, in a programme entitled "the dead speak", the screen became filled with images of data visualised as no cinematic audience has witnessed in totality before. Surveying through a collection of lo/hi tech images created by and for corporate, military, medical and leisure industries, Paul Bush's film, "the rumour of true things" succeeded in its intention to be a portrait of contemporary Britain.

Although considered public domain, these images of surveillance, simulation and desire have seldom been seen outside the industries in which they were made. Perhaps only a quarter to a third of them have been seen separately via various mainstream media. According to Bush, access to the footage was either mediated through PR departments set up by corporations that dealt directly with electronic image making like GEC, or through various third party interventions for larger corporations and government bodies. Companies where computer simulation was used for training, robotics and factory inspection such as Ford and Rolls Royce had, on the other hand, little organised press knowledge that such images were being used or produced. Medical scientists were flattered and responsive in knowing that Bush's film was not a documentary about their area of research, but rather a look at the 3-d images they created which were the result of compiling and visualising scientific data. The myth that there is a clear divide between artist and scientist is disproved here. Yet the processes that are used for diagnosis or data extraction translate into digital image constructions that are shaped by the remnants of conventional aesthetics of beauty and analogue photographic representation. What becomes horrifically clear in watching the film is that it reveals the extent to which big money is used in developing advanced virtual technologies which edify predispositions towards conventional ideological constructs. Although the irony exists that eventually the billions pumped into military flight simulations, for example, may prove to provide the necessary technologies for social subversion, the crux of the matter is how, if at all, this potential default will serve to create new artistic and social relationships. It seems necessary to overlook the possibilities of the computer as an imaging tool which can reposition and recode visual narratives, for threat of challenging current economic forms of practice.

However obvious yet fascinating this may be, the primary aim of amassing these cybernetic images was, says Paul Bush, much like an archiving of the present, an indexing which serves to bring the consensual and the hallucinatory into a wider discourse. His agenda is not one of overt political informant; in order to remain somewhat neutral and loyal to the initial context of the images, extraneous narration was not used in the film. Left to their own devices, the images became morbidly alive. Technologies that are able to extend perception to conceive previously inaccessible areas of our bodies such as MRIs and x-rays, to invasive microvideography and electron microscopy, transform data into virtual forms mimicking decay and restoration. Terrain is mapped in such hyperreal detail that geographies become militarised and controlled through virtually generated landscapes. Everything is seen at all times and in real time.... Perhaps the best advice is not to lose sight of yourself, or code yourself in electronic light where you too can game with the boys and girls in machine time.

Elizabeth Eversole