Against What? Against Whom? — Essay on Virtual Reality for PTSD 


Eye/Machine III, 2003.
Video, @ 2 screens | 25 minutes

Text by Renata Mandic

Review of Virtual Reality for PTSD by Harun Farocki
Co‐produced with ICA | Raven Row contemporary art space presents nine video installations
Against What? Against Whom?, the retrospective of Harun Farocki's video installations at Raven Row in London.


Image: still from Harun Farocki's Eye/Machine III, 2003

“By the 2030s, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will predominate.”
Ray Kurzweil

Employing film material as a tool for examining both pictorial and social structures, Harun Farocki combines archive film images with his own film footage by means of a direct‐cinema montage. The visual material and text inserts from the commentary are split up between the two projectors in varying combinations, related but separated. This juxtaposition of image and commentary is principle of essayistic montage that encourages a form of double viewing. In Eye/Machine III, Farocki structures material around the concept of the operational images read by war technicians, intercut with scene segments of footage produced by 'intelligent weapons', security cameras and automated assembly–line footage, opening the piece with an actual aerial footage of a bombing in the First Gulf War.

Pictures were filmed and transmitted from US gunship helicopters and airplanes on a mission, showing the 'view' of their targets right up until the moment of impact. Cold electronic display is pixilated presentation of outside reality with basic position information (longitude & latitude). This graphical interface of cockpit is only connection that pilot has with its surroundings; he is isolated from exterior, from reality that he produces below. He is immersed in virtual presentation through this 'artificial eye' and he is completely dependent on technological superstructure that allows him to find ground targets by online image processing. War is conducted entirely through images. In 'War and Cinema' Paul Virilio quotes W. J. Perry, a former US Under‐secretary of State for Defense, as saying "once you can see the target, you can expect to destroy it". Virilio adds: "For men at war, the function of the weapon is the function of the eye". However "what is known is not all there is to be seen, and that is seen is not all there is to be known" as Thomas Elsaesser remarked.

Distance between the pilot and the battlefield is created by means of graphical interfaces that basically allow viewing of reality only through virtual representation. Graphical interface is different from television and leads to cyberspace, it is an object in itself, which renders a different, virtually distorted reality. Civilians are not seen at all, they literally become invisible. All we are left with stains and geometrical grids. No humans, no story, no drama, no war. In a way, the subject is closer to cyberspace than reality. Jean Baudrillard made thought provoking remark about the historically unprecedented conjunction of military force and spectacle during the Golf War, describing it as the first war to be closer to a video game then to war.

In Farocki's video the viewer encounters an image of distraction that is in itself districted — no figure, perspective, scale referencing or color are present to help us with a possible narrative, context, time or location. Navigational cruise missiles find their way by comparing a stored image of a landscape and image taken during flight by infrared camera mounted in a missile head, which Faroki describes as montage, because " montage is always about similarity and difference." One of major differences of this condition is question of 'witnessing' — seeing it with his or her own eyes. Referring to the writings of Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg, "Witnessing at War" is an essay he wrote for the book titled "Witness, Memory,Representation and the Media in Question", that was published in 2008. Zangenbergfocuses on conditions of 'witnessing' making a claim that the condition of witnessing is evaded and destroyed, circumvented or paralysed. Zangenberg considers the erosion of these modes and conditions, leading to 'the obliteration of witnessing' in part due to the proliferation of digital imagery and the contemporary role played by media.

In 1991 image like these where shown on TV ‐ viewers where to be turned into war technicians. As the occurred in Kuwait, it also occurred on the screens of entire world. The site of defeat or victory was not the ground, but the screen. New technologies are substituting a virtual reality for an actual reality. Henry Giroux observes, "Just as the necessity of fighting terror has become the central rationale for war used by the Bush administration and other governments, introduced with a new set of images a visual culture of shock and awe has emerged". Daily life takes contour of 'permanent fire‐drill'. Automated assembly–line footage, aerial photography and the smart bomb's self–documentation, all manifest the new form of non–human image–making of personless cameras. Machines impersonate the human. Cinematography by devices. The image is no longer used only as testimony, but also as an indispensable link in a process of production and destruction. Image is itself part of a process.

As Einstein sad: there are three bombs. The first one is the atomic bomb, which disintegrates reality, the second one is the digital or computer bomb, which destroys the principle of reality itself ‐ not the actual object ‐ and rebuilds it, and finally the third bomb is the demographic one. Technologies seriously challenge the status of the human being, splits unity with "the real', leaving us without a sense who or where we are. Distorted relationship to the real through integration in virtual reality (or as Vario calls it, an 'accident') is connotation to schizophrenia. However, it no longer works only at the scale of individuals, as in madness, but at the scale of the world. One can consider the criteria of dangers to arms control and the international law of warfare, by judging potential of new military technologies from a viewpoint of international security (as opposed to a narrow concept of national security through military strength).

Baudrillard J. quotes
Elsaesser T. : Afterall, Univercity of Arts London, 2009, p. 62.
Virilio, P.: War and Cinema, Interview ( )
Giroux H., Beyond the Spectacle of Terrorism, Global Uncertainly and the Challenge
of the New Media, Paradigm Publishers, 2006, p. 21.
Zangenberg, M. B.: 'Witnessing at War' Essay, Witness, Memory, Representation and
the Media in Question: ed. Ulrik Ekman and Frederik Tygstrup, Copenhagen:
Museum Tusculanum Press, 2008
War at a Distance video, 2003

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