C.O.T.I.S. Movie



Collision Courses by Esta Milne



Collision Courses by Esta Milne
Real Time Newspaper, December issue, 1998, Australia

Honest to God, if I hear the 'm' word one more time, I'm going to have a cartographic seizure. Since the early 80s when Fredric Jameson conflated porno angst with an inability to represent the reconfiguration of spatiality, cultural production has remained in the thrall of the map. The 'will to cartography' describes the dominant critical stance informing a broad range of cultural practices, aesthetic commentaries and emergent social sites. One thinks immediately, of course, of all those energetic efforst to map, navigate and chart the spaces of post-corporeal digital existence. Yet it has to be admitted that there are some environments where a spot of mapping comes in handy: bioethics, new reproductive technologies and the Human Genome Project. A preoccupation with the logic of maps reflects our current fascination with borders and boundaries, interface and intersection. What constitutes the inside and outside of the body has become increasingly problematic for cultural commentators, scientists, media theorists and artists. And what might be the consequences of transgressing or mutating these limits was the subject of a recent Experimenta Media Arts event held in Melbourne, Viruses and Mutations.

Curated by Keely Macarow, the event brought together a diverse group of academics, genetic scientists, bioethicists and artists. Produced with the assistance of Cinemedia, Viruses and Mutations was part of the Melbourne Festival Visual Arts Program and consisted of three interrelated projects: a one-day cultural symposium, an exhibition -- with works from digital artists and medical industry professionals -- and a website. These three elements offered a way to critique and represent the issues that are generated when aesthetics, science and technology clash.

Indeed, a number of the contributors to the exhibition seemed quite keen on collision narratives. One of the most intriguing, albeit disquieting, installations imagined biotechnology as an aircraft crash. Called C.O.T.I.S. Movie ('Cult of the Inserter Seat' and 'Mechanism of Viral Infection Entry') this digital sound installation, by the international artist collective KIT, used medical scanning apparatus as a metaphor to trace all kinds of worrying links between bodies, technology and virology. Activated by one's own body -- you had to get up on a little stage and sit in a simulated aircraft seat to start the show -- C.O.T.I.S. Movie constructed an environment of uncomfortable immersion and somatic pain. I mean this quite literally. The sound sculpture created by the three speakers surrounding the aircraft seat, reverberated in a way almost too painful to bear. Afrantic voice screeches "we're going down". Seated in front of a screen you read that the Cotis Movie scanner has, apparently, located your vulnerable point in order to implant a virus. A tad apocalyptic? Well, yes. And this is what makes C.O.T.I.S. Movie a troubling encounter. If mapping has captured the cultural imagination, then the millennial discourse of the virus is no slouch either. While tropes of infection and viral transmission are made to stand for a plethora of cultural phenomena or transformations (malfunctions in computer software, popularity of theory in literature departments and so on) those with actual, material bodies infected by viruses continue to suffer. We ought to be a little cautious when the representation of illness appears to articulate a kind to techno-sublime: "the intended outcome of the C.O.T.I.S. Movie is an aircraft crash -- which in this case suggest a mutated body -- a body fused between technology."

Theorising the body as a site for technological intervention -- as collision, fusion, transgression or intersection -- concerns a number of the other works in the exhibition. Justine Cooper's digital video, Rapt, for example, imaged the artist's own body to explore the effects of biomedical technology on corporeal understanding of time and space. The Tissue Culture & Art Project (reviewed in the Oct/Nov issue of RealTime) by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr used living tissue to 'grow' a conceit about the relation between process and product -- life and artificiality, art and science. The Love Machine, an installation by Michele Barker and Anna Munster, aimed to "represent the hybridity which computer imaging makes possible between technology and flesh." This exhibit mimed the logic of a photo booth; that is, it simulated a particular kind of photo booth that the artists discovered in Japan and Hong Kong which takes a photograph of a couple and then digitally predicts and delivers a picture of the offspring. For Barker and Munster the structure provided a way to speculate about notions of definitive biological origin, ambiguous identity, authenticity and digital modes of reproduction.