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Viva Paci

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


Vivid Effects Inc, Mandala System, 1986
Vivid Effects Inc, Mandala System, 1986 Vivid Effects Inc, Mandala System, 1986 Beverly Reiser, Life on a slice, 1992
Vito Orazem, Thomas Lück, HOE-TV, 1990 (video)
Michel Gondry, Like A Rolling Stone, 1996 (video)
At the exhibition Images du Futur, viewers/visitors were continually encouraged to experiment with what they saw: they became veritable testers of prototypes, of one-of-a-kind exemplars that preceded the ultimate mass production of the model. In a fairground atmosphere, they were surrounded by a host of disparate objects that they took to be attractions. Everything had to be tried: viewers were invited to take part in practices that were as experimental as they were ephemeral.

Beverly Reiser, Life on a slice, 1992 Emmanuel Carlier, Temps Morts, 1996 Emmanuel Carlier, Temps Morts, 1996 Vito Orazem, Thomas Lück, HOE-TV, 1990 (video) Ami Fish, Terry Maxedon, Sticks, 1993 Ami Fish, Terry Maxedon, Fruit, 1993 Ami Fish, Terry Maxedon, Tequila, 1993 Michel Gondry, Like A Rolling Stone, 1996 (video)

In Images du Futur, the idea of the future was jumbled together with the present of the 1980s and 1990s, but this present sought to present itself in terms of its extreme novelty via, for example, communications systems, superconducting materials, new systems for creating and recording sounds and images, and a vast array of personal computers. This celebration of the technological present made use of methods handed down from trade fairs and the science and technology expositions of the past, with their cult of the inventor, whom they presented as an artist (see also "Exhibiting"). Even if the works were sometimes presented as "bizarre" prototypes, they were proclaimed as unique and incidental artistic creations — which did not always serve the interests of inventors trying to obtain a patent or a distributor. It is only today, after the fact, that one can make an overall assessment and note which works were picked up by the market.

This was the case with Mandala VR, created in 1986 and presented at Images du Futur in 1993. This is a system that enables players to control an image on a large screen. A decription of the product currently up on the Web site of the Toronto company Vivid Group says that the system uses "a video camera to drop a player’s image into fast action games and fun virtual environments. Players control the games simply by moving around." Without joysticks, gloves, cables or other devices, viewers can interact with the image on the screen. The Vivid Group is now offering this system for advertising campaigns and promotional events: clients will be able to "interact" with the company’s ad. This is one of the few instances in which a work shown at Images du Futur envisaged a commercial application. There was, nonetheless, another work in the 1992 instalment of the exhibition (Beverly and Hans Reiser’s, Life on Slice) that used a system comparable to that of Mandala VR. In this instance, viewers’ images were recorded by cameras and projected onto a screen: from their very real position in the exhibition space, viewers were invited to "virtually touch" the figures featured on the screen. Thus their images interacted fully with the other figures on the two-dimensional surface, and everything changed in accordance with the viewers’ movements. Life on Slice did not, however, have the same sort of future as Mandala VR; it remained a one-of-a-kind work without industrial prospects.

Emmanuel Carlier’s video installation Temps morts exemplifies a process that has been widely used in a number of areas pertaining to the moving image, from video installations to film and video. An image, recorded by 100 cameras arranged in a circle around a body, appeared in a sort of three-dimensional space and gave viewers’ the impression that they could walk all around the photographic body, as if the image itself existed in three dimensions. This type of technique met with great success in a famous scene in the Wachowski brothers’ film The Matrix (1999), and was also used (after modifications normal for a prototype) in Michel Gondry’s Like A Rolling Stone, an excellent video presented at Images du Futur in 1996 and featuring the Rolling Stones performing the title song. In this case:

"Most of the clip is based on pictures [...] [Michel Gondry] made an animatic with the still pictures, and during this (sic) three weeks we replaced the pictures with a reconstructed film. The origin of these effects is up for grabs. Most credit Tim Macmillan with time-slice experimentation in the 1980s, before founding Time-Slice Film in 1997. The facts are confusing, but VFX has given a shot at documenting this technique which was introduced to the masses with Gondry’s video for Like A Rolling Stone." (1) (see also "Installations/Attractions" and "Cinematographic Traces").

Notwithstanding the good intentions of the visionary artists, other works did not end up leading to other projects. Stereo Media Inc.’s 3D Television, presented in 1992, was a stereoscopic TV:

"The stereoscop media system is a revolutionary discovery that makes it possible to reproduce three-dimensional images on the majority of ordinary television screens. Absolute realism is now within the viewer’s grasp. This system, which could one day be found in all living rooms, is already providing a great service to medicine in the areas of teaching and research. How does the system work? The image is captured by two cameras placed side by side so that the distance between their respective lenses is the same as that separating a pair of human eyes. The two resulting images are combined into one signal that can then be transmitted to any television set. Special glasses are used to decode the mixed images, so that the image captured by the left-hand camera is transmitted to the left eye, while the other image goes to the right eye. Veritable masterpieces of modern technology, these glasses contain micro-circuits that control the liquid crystal lenses. The system can thereby produce natural images in three dimensions." (2)

The description of this complex device with its tool for capturing existing images ("reproduce three-dimensional images on the majority of ordinary television screens") and for broadcasting using a retransmission process that is not at all clear ("the two resulting images are combined into one signal that can then be transmitted to any television set") has something retro about it, making use as it does of the elementary principle of stereoscopy. This 3D Television is more like one of the outrageous machines of Georges Méliès, such as his Photographie électrique à distance (1907-1908). It is basically the last part of the description that makes readers of the catalogue and viewers dream of all those "masterpieces of modern technology," those improbable curiosities of the (then) technological present exhibited as so many promises of the future. In the imaginations of the target audience, the glasses, which "contain micro-circuits that control the liquid crystal lenses," become astonishing objects laden with visions of the future... Four years later, Brian De Palma made use of these optometric gadgets in Mission Impossible (1996) and, ten years later, Steven Spielberg featured them in his film Minority Report (2002).

The coexistence of art and industry that characterized Images du Futur is also highlighted in another example of 3D television, but one that clearly belongs to the institution of art and not of industry. This is the holographic television of Vito Orazem and Thomas Lück, HOE-TV, created in 1990:

"Orazem and Lück's holograms do not contain any kind of imagery themselves. They are what is technically known as HOEs (or Holographic Optical Elements). These are holograms that do not display a picture, but instead are used to act as a lens, mirror, or a complex optical component. Rarely are HOEs used in artworks, and more rarely even in the radical and creative way developed by the German team. Their main visual arrangement comprises a video monitor, with noise or black and white computer animations, and a large HOE, which is placed in front of the monitor. Instead of a halogen bulb, the monitor — with its changing forms, pulsating contrasts, and moving elements — becomes the light source for the HOE. This is carefully designed to take light in and manipulate, distort, and multiply it in numerous visual echoes, further blending colors and creating an overall calm and meditative meaning. The result is a cinematic spectacle that blends the temporal linearity of computer animation with the spatial and chromatic dimensionality of holography. The artists have created many works based on this principle. HOE-TV, for example, used only noise on the monitor." (3)

Like the now classic Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), other attempts at stereoscopic images, with or without glasses (see also "Sunless Images: 3D Animation"), even if they were quite successful on their own terms, did not end up being mass produced. Phscologram (1987), designed by Stephan Mayers and Ellen Sandor of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s multisciplinary collective (ART)N and shown at Images du Futur in 1992, was a system for obtaining 3D digital photographs. The word P.H.S.C.ologram, coined in 1983 by Sandor, who also founded (ART)N is an acronym for photography, holography, sculpture and computer graphics. The 1992 Images du Futur catalogue describes this patented technique, which could be used to:

"[...] create one’s own stereographic and three-dimensional printed images. These colour images are produced by means of a wholly computerized and backlit digital process. Unlike holograms, phscolograms are veritable 3D computerized photographs that can be viewed without moving and without special glasses: they can be made from a real or invisible objects, and can be enlarged or reduced. [...] The accomplishments of the (ART)N lab give us some idea of what the future of photography will be like by showing the most advanced technology and research to date. The (ART)N team is doing things that have never been done before. Its digitized virtual photography technique makes the invisible visible. The worlds to be found inside computers are the same ones in which the people of the 21st century will live, work and play. Just as past explorers were able to document their discoveries by means of photography, the (ART)N lab is now documenting humanity’s first steps in the virtual world." (4)

Even if the description of this device comes from a group of artists who are as much bricoleurs as they are technologists, (ART)N is influenced by an advertising rhetoric cast in a utopian light: "The worlds to be found inside computers are the same ones in which the people of the 21st century will live, work and play." [...] "the (ART)N lab is now documenting humanity’s first steps in the virtual world." And this rhetoric is even more pronounced than that of the 3D Television presented by the Stereo Media Inc. business enterprise. Indeed, we see the dividing line between art and industry getting thinner and thinner, and the envelopping discourse becoming increasingly ingenuous in its attemps to combine the rhetorics of science and advertising.

Images du Futur accorded a place of honour to a trend as visibly fascinating as that constitued by the 3D photographic imagination. Other 3D photographs were presented the following year, i.e. 1993. They included, for example, the 3D photographies lenticulaires, or lens-based photographs, executed by Amy Fisch and Terry Maxedon. The lens system they used had already been in existence since the 1930s, when a certain Maurice Bonnet patented it in Paris. With this system, a plastic layer composed of a series of round or longitudinal lenses enabled one to see a relief image directly without the aid of a viewing device, glasses or other accessories. The round lenses, which acted as veritable miniature magnifying glasses, transmitting different images to each eye. But commercial success was not in the cards this time around.

Viva Paci © 2005 FDL

(1) Source:

(2) Description in the catalogue: Images du futur '92 (Montreal: Cité des Arts et des Nouvelles Technologies de Montréal, 1992): 29.

(3) Eduardo Kac, “Beyond the spatial paradigm: time and cinematic form in holographic art,” Blimp Film Magazine (Fall 1995): 48-57. Also available on Internet:

(4) Images du Futur '92, op. cit., p. 37.