Grey Room

Strangeloves: From/De la région centrale, Air Defense Radar Station Moisie, and Media Cultures of the Cold War

Kenneth White

Stanley Kubrick, dir. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964. Frame enlargement.


In order to illuminate the complex technical–libidinal constellations that invest the media cultures of the Cold War, White compares two seemingly incongruous visual machines situated in close proximity on the frozen tundra of northern Canada: the so–called Camera Activating Machine (CAM), developed by the filmmaker Michael Snow and the engineer Pierre Abbeloos, an automated apparatus that was used to shoot the canonical, avant-garde film “La région centrale” (1971) and the Canadian Forces Station Moisie, which was part of a air defense radar network built by the U.S. and Canadian government. The CAM demands we consider it and the “gigantic landscape film” it recorded in the context of another kind of survey of North American terrain conducted by international military forces. Each “base” nurtured scanning systems with similar engineering based on a system of servomechanisms: one produced by institutions of (inter)national defense, the other by artist–engineers. While each employed its machines for ostensibly different purposes, each nevertheless reckoned with similar anxieties of perception. In a kind of kinetic synchronicity, the two systems strove to realize a vision beyond their technological capabilities: the early detection of weapons of mass destruction or a filmic challenge to the spectator’s limits of perception. The CAM and CFS Moisie, spinning in tandem, enclose the observer within a potentially hypnotic apparatus of perception in a fine entrapment of one’s desire to see beyond: over the horizon, into the future.