Brain Tumour Helmets with Microwaves
Centre for Contemporary Photography, November/December 2002
Eyeline Magazine, Stuart Koop
If you like living under power lines and using a mobile phone, then Ian Haig’s helmets are for you. Don one of these and you supposedly gain access to frequencies usually beyond the threshold of human brainwave activity. Indeed, listen hard, and you may even hear one of those entities trapped in between worlds, or rather, in between bandwidths.
The helmets are fitted with antennae and headphones. As you walk around the gallery filled with TV sets and aerials of all kinds, you move in and out of zones of clear reception wherein some entity from the nether regions of radio-bandwidth beckons you. It manifests as a slow, intermittent contorted voice first of all, imploring you to recompose its being via your own brainwaves, as if the two frequencies might mingle and free the being into signal strength. The surrounding monitors seem to record the activity at these points of contact, rendering the ebb and flow of electromagnetic life around you.
Yet what is it that would be set free here? There’s a few clues in other media treatments like Crossing Over with John Edwards, where the host runs errands on our behalf to another half-world of spirits, the results televised around the globe. Or John Carpenter’s The Prince of Darkness in which TV signals received while we sleep contain messages about the future. The message is clear, there is life on another frequency, it’s simply a matter of how to tune in.
And that’s the risk here, as elsewhere. In it’s most prosaic form, it’s the risk of brain tumours from using mobile phones. But considered in its bio-technical aspect, it’s also about modifying physicality to accommodate further technological dimensions in which case the tumour represents a physical response to developing these new capacities, the first step, the founding mutation, in a new line of bio-tech evolution.
These results are elaborated with respect to television by Professor Brian O’Blivion in Cronenberg’s Videodrome (O’Blivion also contributes an essay for HaigÕs show) when he proclaims: ‘The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain.’ From which follows a total reconceptualisation of physicality enmeshed with audio-visual technology. And that film announces a new synthetic organicism in which videotapes breathe and recorded material may be ingested directly.
Which begs the question of our beckoning friend-as-tumour-in-potentia at CCP, stuck in the sparking ether of magnetic radiation filling the front gallery: will that thing grow in, or on, us to our detriment? It’s not only disbelief that must be suspended here, but every single notion of physical embodiment too. Our conversion starts with putting on a helmet and quickly progresses to total physical abandonment to the fluxes of transmission and reception. We are simply conduits for the larger communications industry.
Haig is the tele-evangelist cum sales guru in this enterprise (and therefore a very fitting Australia Council New Media Fellow for 2003). He extrapolates from a reasonable proposition about the usefulness of technology (such as radio magnetic means of communication) to ridiculous scenarios like these. Indeed, Haig has now produced quite a range of incredible, consumable, gizmos, like the Excelsior 3000 toilet, which integrated advanced audio-visual media with the body’s organic flows. Or The Anti-ergonomic Hump Machine; a chair designed to produce bad posture. These develop various absurd interfaces between technology and biology, rendering the body impossibly changed, modified, or adjusted, and exposing the crass commerce, bogus innovation and specious language surrounding technological development.