Eye / Machine I, 2001

In the Eye / Machine trilogy, Farocki deals with the technology of war and how that visual technology has penetrated civilian life. In his films he brings out the fact that the human eye is losing the capacity to distinguish between real and fictional images. In Eye / Machine the lens of the camera is placed on the so-called ‘smart bombs’, replacing the human eye as the supreme witness of war. The manipulation of images in times of conflict is nothing new, since countless documentary testimonies over history have shown that they have become one more weapon against the enemy.

Counterinformation, which in other times was done from pulpits, in leaflets or over the radio waves, is now handled by image control, although no-one talks about war propaganda any more and it is the big communications groups that have control of information. The latest danger for official propaganda has been online publications and the dizzying speed with which users of blogs all over the world can ‘upload’ their version of events.

Taking into consideration the level of development of technology today, Farocki wonders to what extent we can distinguish between man and machine. In modern military technology the intelligence deployed can no longer be reduced to human intelligence; we have to add the intelligence of machines. The ‘man-machine’ combination takes the shape, according to him, of the ‘eye-machine’ combination when he analyses the functioning of smart machines and what they ‘see’ when they are working on the basis of recognition programmes and image processing.

The thrust provided by the 1991 Gulf War for electronic surveillance devices —an intricate system of survival, detection and warning which can act on a potential enemy— made them known as C3I: Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. Farocki establishes parallels between the military and technology industries, while bringing out the growing overlap of these new advances and their application in everyday life.

The Eye / Machine trilogy consists of three pieces, 25, 15 and 25 minutes in length. It reflects the instruments of work, war and control, the new techniques in robotics and video surveillance, which have made huge strides since the Gulf War. Images are projected simultaneously on two screens.

Eye/Machine I

During the 1991 Gulf War television channels from all over the world offered striking images of bombings taken by cameras placed in the heads of the missiles. Kamikaze cameras. The bomb was the reporter. “The eye of the camera creates an idea of subjectivity and where there is a subject there is intelligence,” says Farocki. Later the term ‘precision weapons’ was used, but at first people talked about ‘smart weapons’. As is also happening in industry, in war manual work is being suppressed. In Eye / Machine I he alternates these images with others taken on an assembly line in a factory. The machines are working blind, the images they capture are not designed to be seen by the human eye, but to be recognised by parameters which the machine executes with precision. In that way an autonomous robot equipped with ‘camera eyes’ compares the data memorized for its route with the ones displayed by its environment. The technology applied to military weaponry, such as the surveillance devices for identifying and pursuing targets, are no more than a development of techniques which are also used in other disciplines such as the images collected by satellites or the cameras for medical use. In the images of the Gulf War it was impossible for the spectator to tell whether it was a real image or one taken from a simulator or the screens of a videogame. The eye-machine confrontation leads us to wonder about that duality insofar as the eye takes the real image and the machine the manipulable one. Reality versus fiction. Images of a war which is totally aseptic to our gaze, where we do not see the victims, far easier to forget. Farocki closes the piece thus: “Think of a war of autonomous machines, a war without soldiers like a factory without workers.”

Other works of Harum Farocki at the MACBA Collection:

Eye / Machine II, 2001
Eye / Machine III, 2003

Technical details

Original title:
Eye / Machine I
Registration number:
Farocki, Harun
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Audiovisual recording
Two-channel video, colour, sound, 25 min
Edition number:
Ed. 3/3 + 1 P.A.
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Harun Farocki
It has accessibility resources:

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