1999 is a year of suspense. What will happen as the clocks tick over on 23:59
Friday 31st December? Will the digital revolution be followed by a
digital terror, as machines wreak havoc throughout the globe?
Most of us can recognise a media beat-up when we read one. The millennium bug
seems more a product of fantasy than practical danger. But does this make it any
less interesting? What does it say about our relationship to technology that we
project a demon into its very heart?
In the shadow of the 21st century, we have a unique opportunity to
explore the bug in the machine. The hysteria will soon be historical, along with
the Luddite fear of knitting mills and cold war threat of nuclear apocalypse. As
a figment of our collective imagination, the millennium bug will expire just as
reaches its due date.
Is the millennium bug more than a global glitch? The first recorded ‘bug’
was a moth that disturbed the circuits of an early Aiken relay computer. In
fantasies of technology, the meaning of ‘bug’ extends beyond technical
malfunction to a loss of human spirit. This is symbolised by the process of
entomorphosis, or turning into an insect. Tales such as Kafka’s Metamorphosis
and The Fly speak of profound alienation from the common good. Today,
such transformation occurs through digitisation. The software pirates in Beijing’s
‘electronic street’ are called ‘computer insects’ (diannao chong).
Our relation to technology today is less paranoid. Cyber-evangelists such as Wired
magazine’s Kevin Kelly champion a ‘hive mind’, through which we forgo our
private selves for the greater power of the network. Viruses have become the
celebrities of cyberspace. Last summer, cinema audiences flocked to see the
stars of digital animation—ants.
Maybe bugs are not just unfortunate accidents of software. In a bigger
picture, bugs seem intrinsic to the very development of technology. Their
unpredictable behaviours make it difficult for us to treat machines as our mere
slaves. They give machines the power to entrance and frustrate us—to make us
The insect theme was used as both literal and metaphorical reference in the
selection of CD-ROMs. They are the central feature in two seminal narratives of
technology. The Star Trek species Borg is a popular expression of
technological paranoia, in which the network becomes a sinister intelligence
bent on ‘assimilating’ all life forms unto it. By contrast, the arthouse WaxWeb
by David Blair employs the intelligence of bees to counter the evil designs of
arms production. While insects are our current obsession, it is important to
recognise the continuing fascination through history. Though using primitive
‘book’ technology, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia has been included
as a 17th
century expression of the ‘inner sublime’ contained in the small details of
The more metaphorical reference pertains to the number of CD-ROMs that
provide a close-up fragmented view of the world. In contrast to the bird’s eye
view of cinema, CD-ROM offers us the worm’s eye view of the world as random
chaos. In a title like Frozen Palaces we have to crawl through linked mise
en scenes in the hope of re-constructing a linear flow of events.
The low production requirements of the animation program QuickTime make this
technology accessible to artists who might otherwise find themselves lost in a
film crew or design team. Artists like Zoë Beloff stitch together QuickTime
movies and ‘slow time’ VR panoramas. The result is a kind of multimedia
‘quilt’ that evokes a landscape pulsating with action. As we develop a means
of critically appreciating multimedia, it is this craft-like assemblage we might
look for rather than a narrative unity.
The digitally derived films and videos in these
screenings present creatures that range from slug and bugs to mosquitoes in
death throes. The digital medium gives the artist/filmmaker an opportunity to
create a minute entomological world with precise detail and humour. Digital
dreaming in a film like Mozzie can make a mosquito speed through a carefully
shaped ear canal or transport an elderly rabbit in Bunny across the threshold
of an oven into a moth-filled sky.
The realm of the micro is also featured in Kyle
Cooper’s title sequences where film titles stand alone as works of art.
Cooper explores the limits of digital creativity in film with
images like the flashes of veined eyes in The Island of Dr Moreau or the
overlapping shots of a killer’s tools in Se7en. He creates a texture that
heralds the film itself: the simplicity of an image like an emerging painterly
feather in The Joy Luck Club sets the mood.
Digital technology in this programme shows a world of
decline or hope in this new millennium. Millennium Bug takes a satirical look
at a declining future as distorted creatures and objects invade an urban
wasteland. Satellite illustrates the negative effects of television and
promotes a wholesome hope in nature. The music clip for Björk’s All
is Full of Love contrasts the mechanistic contact of robots with human warmth.
From entomological bugs to millennium bugs, the films in this program cast a