In preparing to approach the image as our object of inquiry, we proceed by asking: is it possible to study the image with lights dimmed? With our eyes closed? Must the image be conceived in exclusively visual terms? Would a multi-sensory approach allow us to explore dimensions of the image that are, ironically, obscured by its visual connotation? In pursuit of these questions, we turn to Gaston Bachelard’s hypothesis that the image is integrally related to the sensorium of the imagination, ‘the subject of the verb to imagine’—and its corollary: that the image can only be investigated phenomenologically, in its spatio-temporal function of pushing reality beyond itself.
To draw out the consequences of Bachelard’s hypothesis, and to thus explore the terrain of the imaginary image, we seek to perform a two-fold intervention-exorcism within the field of spectral ecology. First, recognizing that the spectrum is itself haunted by the visual connotation of the spectre which structures it, we seek to trace the historical manner in which the spectrum displaced the multi-sensory image of ether as an explanatory model of wirelessness. And, further, to interrogate how this transformation, which represents the usurpation of the visual image, has succeeded in obscuring the materiality of wireless systems through a semblance of invisibility—perhaps best expressed by the clichéd image of the ghost which has become associated with wireless media in both the popular and critical imaginaries.
Second, with this distorting visual image of the ghost temporarily exorcised from our understanding of wirelessness, we attempt to pursue the knowledge embedded within alternative image-spheres. Hence, we turn to the contemporary wireless myth in which the mysterious disappearance of large percentages of the bee population in Europe and North America has been attributed to the effects of electromagnetic pollution caused by increased mobile phone use. Though this theory has since been debunked (as theory), its stubborn persistence within the public imaginary provides us with an imagined image with which we can phenomenologically investigate the polluting effects of wirelessness upon the essential mobility of Bachelard’s category of the ‘aerial imagination.’
My paper uses Vancouver artist Mark Soo's 2006 gallery installation “is it any wonder (1600 Kelvin)” as an entrance to a critical examination of the dominant visual tropes of beauty and nature in a city affected by poverty, drug use, prostitution and unattended mental health issues. Soo's work juxtaposes a sunset image taken from Vancouver's wealthy West End and the monochromatic yellow lighting used in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) to discourage loitering and drug use.
The sunset image evokes visual cues of nature and health, which are everywhere in evidence in the West End, such as ocean, mountains, active residents on rollerblades and bicycles. However, drug use, poverty and prostitution in Vancouver's DTES fall outside the discursive norm set by visual tropes of natural beauty and active lifestyles. As a means to manage this crisis, the city employs tactics for controlling 'deviant' bodies, including, as referenced in Soo's installation, the use of monochromatic yellow lighting that prevents intravenous drug users from locating their veins. Through the analysis of Soo's work, I intend to extrapolate how the rational, discursive production of Vancouver as a destination-city includes the management of crises of 'deviance' through the surveillance and control of bodies.