David Cox’s innovative engagement with moving image technology extends over numerous iterations, spanning analogue formats 16mm, 35mm and Super 8 to a creative engagement with gaming to 360 degree immersive production and performance. These technological migrations are also reflected in his global mobility between the UK, USA and Australia. Two of his critical works produced in Melbourne, Australia were Puppenhead (1990) and Otherzone (1998). 

These short films process the historic aesthetics of constructivism and predict the graphic styles of digital aesthetics. Puppenhead is described online as “A brilliantly realised nightmare in striking German expressionist style that combines robotic figures worthy of Terminator with a story about a puppet-maker in Berlin in 1934”1. While Otherzone is described as “A cyber-punk thriller combining live action and 3D animation, set in Melbourne, Australia in the future”2. This interview was conducted online from Cox’s lock-down Californian family home in San Francisco.


DDB: You lived in St. Kilda when you first arrived in Australia in 1972, correct?

DC: Yeah, St. Kilda was our first port of call. A lot of migrants from Europe often begin in St. Kilda and Elwood. That’s where the cheapest and most accessible housing was then. The first short-term accommodation for the first few years was St. Kilda, and then Elwood. St. Kilda was very dynamic. Chopper shows you what St. Kilda was like. It was very edgy but also, exotic. Being a 10-year-old kid, it was just paradise, especially Luna Park, the last vestiges of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s entertainment world, which I later found out bonded me to other filmmakers, a love of the slightly seedy entertainment world. A nice home ground for the extreme, wonderful, the weird and licentious.

An 11 year old David Cox outside of Luna Park (1974)

DDB: For Tom Gunning these attractions offered a basis for experimental cinema, and I expect for you, to the 360 degree stuff that you’ll talk about later. You also moved around a lot internationally in your formative years?

DC: Yeah, my family had won an application to exchange lives with teachers in San Diego California in ’69. It was a time of great social and economic upheaval, the Vietnam War. It was a Navy town. They were either coming back or going off to Vietnam. Then my parents would take us to peace rallies, which were very sombre, confrontational and powerful experiences. High tensions about ideology impacted me as a child. That continued on my return to the UK. My father was recording pretty much every event that we went to as a family, because he had a great fondness for audio-visual gear. He was a professional independent freelance camera photographer for newspapers, a sort of stringer. If he saw a good picture, he’d snap it, and then try and sell it. Sometimes he would. He sold a few. He had a good eye. He taught all of us kids how to get a good eye and how to meet deadlines. The freshness of an image is very important, not just what it is, but you’ve got to get it there on time. It’s kind of like fish and chips, you’ve got to eat them within the first half an hour.

DDB: Everyone captures images on their I-phone on an impulse now. Your older brother also ushered you into film culture through Rusden.

DC: Paul was a student of Rusden and came home with equipment in flight cases – Arriflex, Baillieu and Bolex cameras, really cool Manfrotto tripods and lighting kits. I was just fascinated because at high school we didn’t have any of this stuff. He taught me well in advance how to operate light meters and thread cameras, shooting some film. I got a film school education in high school. When most kids were doing drawing in form five, I was at Graham Cutts’ experimental film classes.

DDB: Things operate differently now, with the shift from analogue to digital technologies, and Rusden’s move to the main Burwood campus.

DC: It was much more influenced by the counterculture, the spirit of broad experimentation in society. There was a conscious attempt by most independent filmmakers in Australia to stretch the boundaries of what was possible within film education. The government, up until the late ‘70s, associated innovation with experimentation. After the late ‘70s, they associated innovation with commercial success.

DDB: The first film fund was called the Experimental Film Fund.

DC: Which is what financed Wake in Fright (1971) and Dalmas (1973). Dalmas is both experimental and a narrative. It sums up nicely the dual nature of film practice at that time. I benefited from its tail end. But of course, the same open-endedness also had its hazards because some people didn’t know the boundaries between reality and illusion. And that’s always a danger with countercultures that lack focus and discipline.

DDB: This played out for you in the Super 8 group too (which you joined in 1985 when the group started), didn’t it?

DC: That was an interesting group because it was led by fairly, I’d say, doctrinaire cinephiles. They were into Bresson, European auteurs and presented their Super 8 films as auteurs. There were tensions I suppose between those of us wanting the group to adhere to a more experimental and radical mode of expression and structure versus those who preferred a more predictable institutional formation. This added to the dynamics of the group however and made for some great screenings in those days.

DDB: The open screening every month was where these issues could play themselves out.

DC: I enjoyed them thoroughly, but they had, unfortunately, a little of the whiff of the cake sale on Sunday feel about them, you know. I was still coming off Rusden and it felt a bit like a jumble sale. I loved it. I loved it and I hated it.

DDB: Well, your film Onus on Us (1988) came out at that time?3

DC: It was really every single scrap of Super 8 I had joined together. I just cut everything into three giant reels. But the thing is, order comes out. If you do that, order comes out anyway.

DDB: In Onus on Us you were going around the suburbs from one place to another, connecting to people with related politics, yet they were living so far apart from each other.

DC: There was the physical distance between people, but I had my Mini Moke. I read about Jean Pierre Gorin and Jean Luc Godard, and their Dziga Vertov idea, to go out and interrogate with a camera. People do it now with action cam and YouTube all the time. You use the camera to reveal something about the world around you and your own position within it that you didn’t understand before, and in the process hope to get evidence about the bigger problem about alienation. So if I film my life and other people’s lives, I might therefore be able to answer the question, why is it you feel alienated when you just lived your life? Some people responded by saying, “Well, how dare you ask me why I feel alienated because that’s not a question anyone has the right to ask.” And other people said, “I’m so glad you asked that. I feel awfully alienated and it’s because of X, Y, Z”. It began a discussion about alienation. And that was my goal, simply to get people talking about (a) whether they felt alienated like I did, and (b) if something like Super 8 might help with that. Of course my fantasy was that everyone would grab one of these cheap cameras and go out and start open screenings in every living room and we’d all be liberated with projectors, which was completely unrealistic.

Spiral USA

DDB: Digital technology decades later enabled some of that. Such provocations no longer have that political edge that you framed.

DC: Well, it was the social relations between images that Guy deBord was interested in more than the images. The images don’t only tell you the conditions under which they were produced. They also lay bare implicit cultural values, mores, and political biases of the time. So that’s what I took away from that experience. The indifference that I was met with was, in a way, the confirmation I felt that I needed to move on to something else. It gave me experience in live performance, which I’m still doing. I’m using keyboards, mixers, multiple projectors. It’s neither cinema nor lecture nor music. It’s a combination of all three that I like to do, more than just make films and show them, actually.

DDB: We should talk about Tatlin (1990) and then Puppenhead and Otherzone. You made Tatlin at Swinburne, didn’t you?


DC: We had to do a one-minute exercise in any animation style. Stop motion was my favourite because I was a brothers Quay fan and I’d done some already to get into the place with my Bolex. I was fascinated with Tatlin‘s ideas, because I found myself just constantly drawing tiny one-inch by three-inch drawings of scaffolding and towers. And I’d been watching documentaries on the Constructivists and Dadaists, reading Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and Stewart Holmes’ book on punk, and just trying to get a sense of the early, early, early 20th century when it was AEG in Germany and Deutsche Werkstad, early forms of technology like Zeppelins, Morse code and enigma. I’m coming back to enigma now, actually. But so I kept drawing these little drawings of like 1909 or 1903 kind of in Europe, what the landscape looked like, and it was all wires everywhere and towers and crisscross towers. Then I wanted to build models of them and film them with characters in these scenes. Tatlin was perfect because everything Tatlin did was with wood and rope. And you could do all that with miniature. So I built a little Tatlin set where he was just talking about everything he did in one minute. And then I got John Flaus to read the poem.

DDB: It set up Puppenhead, done in the same year?

DC: They were both done at the same course, which was a one-year full-time post-grad at Swinburne because I wanted to have a post-graduate degree in filmmaking. I didn’t just want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a professional filmmaker, but I couldn’t get into the live action department because there was so much competition, and frankly, I felt it was totally rigged towards the rich kids in Melbourne. I don’t know how it was rigged, but it just seemed rigged to me.

DDB: The French theorist, Pierre Bourdieu insists that the whole education system is skewed towards the upper and middle classes through the communication and management skills not taught but learnt at home.

DC: Even when I was making those films I had people during screenings of Swinburne work who were live action film students turn around and say to me, “Oh, you’re doing animation, are you? You can animate my titles if you like.”

DDB: I think the whole technical practice side is seen as working class and second rate in the academy. Theory is more important than practice. I like Manovich placing animation as the core practice within digital media.

DC: What Lev Manovich talks about in The Language of New Media in terms of the directness of constructivist logic to cinema you get with animation, because you’re building it up frame by frame by frame. It’s a very disciplined form, animation. You have to be on the ball to do it well to get the grades. So David Atkinson and John Bird, it’s like going to West Point and camp… You have to really do some manoeuvres. Tatlin was my evidence that I knew how to give things weight and a sense of inertia, light them and film. It took months. But Puppenhead came out of a nightmare I’d had in a Berlin youth hostel.

I’d gone to Dachau to pay my respects, blown away by the sheer scale of the place. I now had a sense of the sheer enormity of the death camps. When you get there, you just see a mile-and-a-half of where the huts were. You know, it just goes on and on and on and on. Your mind just melts at the very thought of that. I had this nightmare in Berlin. The wall was about to come down a few months later and all the Berliners were kind of like a dog before an earthquake, on edge. They were worked up in that very kind of Weimar edge-of-the-world kind of Dr. Mabuse way.


DDB: I had a friend living in Berlin. He said that after the wall broke down he’d never seen so many accidents with New Mercedes on the road. The East Berliners had believed all the capitalist advertising. They rushed in and bought new cars they couldn’t afford to pay or know how to drive them properly.

DC: I met some of these former East Germans in Oberhausen and they were quite a different bunch to the West Germans. I had this nightmare about being chased around a dark house during a really bad thunderstorm, bursting into a room, and then seeing a pair of legs hanging from where the light fitting normally would be. So I walk up to the pair of legs and pull on them and this centaur appears, except where the horse head would be on the human body with the horse’s head is a wolf. And this wolf chases me all around the house, right? And then at some point his head gets severed and then the horse’s head lands on a nearby table near the window and the whole thing looks like a knight from a chess piece. In fact, with the window next to it, a moon out the window by the lake, and it’s this picture of a horse head with the moon out. And to me, the image there was the powerful image of having dealt with the horror and trauma of Dachau. I picked up on some horror going down in Berlin in retrospect because of what was about to happen with the wall coming down. And I filtered it all into this nightmare, which, when I wrote it down in short fiction form, eventually became Puppenhead. I kept the wolf element and the chasing around element and the sort of shifting of allegiance and shifting of identity element.


DDB: The Heinz Boek character reminded me of the Stasi in East Germany.

DC: Yeah, he’s the part of the human soul who is law. He’s law and order, following the rules. He’s the one who says, “It’s not my fault. They control me through my wages.”

DDB: Putin’s attitude to the west formed in East Berlin.

DC: The Puppenhead idea is really about somebody who is protecting the sanctity of his crazy innovation, and somebody else wants the innovation. He wants to get it somewhere where it can be entertainment and not a weapon. It’s a race against time before the technological element is corrupted, transformed and weaponised. And the Nazi weaponises it, but in so doing, and this is the ambivalent part of the film, weaponising the technology only makes it more anti-Nazi. My moral gambit is that technology is not neutral. It’s actually on the far left.

DDB: Puppenhead was very successful on the festival circuit.

DC: The Film Commission took a chance on me with a post-production grant which I desperately needed at Swinburne. I didn’t have a penny to my name. I was living in a small share house in Fitzroy, which was precarious at best. We got by. I had to work as a teacher which I wasn’t supposed to be doing. So the money that came through for me to get the film edited professionally was a godsend. And then the money finally to get prints made and for it to go with me and some other films eventually to Oberhausen. The condition was I could go with it to Oberhausen if I took other films as an Australian short film package. They were hoping somebody would win a prize from the short films on offer. In the category that my film was entered into, my great mentors and source of inspiration, the brothers Quay, won the category for their great film, The Comb (1991), which is infinitely superior to my film.

DDB: Tatlin was influenced by the Quay’s Street of Crocodiles (1986)?

DC: Yeah, but it’s actually more influenced by films they made when they studied with Svankmajer. I visited them in London, because I went over to visit my grandad, visited their studio. And they gave me a cassette of their music from their films, and I gave them a cassette of music from my films, because what they liked about my films was the music. My animation is shit compared to theirs. Let’s face it.

DDB: The Quay’s big difference is that they animated light. They used tubs of clay containing mirrors that they would move around to animate light flickering on the image.

DC: They work to a level of refined precision. They build everything themselves. I have to rely on engineers to build the puppets for my film.

DDB: Puppenhead‘s success allowed you to network internationally, especially Oberhausen.

Production still from Puppenhead

DC: Yeah. I met Professor Joseph Eisenbaum, an exponent of the anti-militarisation of technology. He had some bad experiences with technology, and he gave a talk called “The Eye of the Bomb”. Of course, this was also the war of the NATO actions, whatever you call them, in Kosovo and all that. So NATO was upping the ante in Europe with its activity. He gave the example of developing a robot that could play ping pong with a child later being picked up and developed by Australians for missile tracking. Technology that you think you’re working on for innocent reasons can, in fact, have more sinister or authoritarian overtones. I was having breakfast one day and he came and sat down at my table to introduce himself. This really esteemed Scientist said, “I loved your film. I really liked your film a lot.” And of course, I thought about it. Yeah, he would because it’s the same thing. It’s the ambivalence of the technology. I didn’t make it clear in my film whether the technology was good or bad, because I don’t think anyone can.

DDB: With Puppenhead the film world opened up, you travelled and engaged further with technologies. You went to the States quite a bit.

DC: Another person I met in Oberhausen was the esteemed filmmaker Lynn Sachs, who has become something of a superstar more recently with her film. She received the Guggenheim Award then, a milestone for a lot of filmmakers. I met Lynn in Oberhausen. We just happened to be the only two people at the baggage pickup and we shared the same car into town. I’d actually seen her films already through a screening at Linden in St Kilda, put on by the Cantrills a month earlier, Sermons and Sacred Pictures (1989), about a minister in her hometown of Memphis in Tennessee. I said, “Oh, Lynn Sachs. I know all about you. I saw your film”. And she goes, “Oh, that’s amazing.” We hit it off. We’re hanging out at Oberhausen. She tells me all about the San Francisco scene. A lot of the films that year at Oberhausen were using found footage. And they’d all come from Craig Baldwin’s basement.

DDB: The found footage came out of his basement.

DC: You go in through his basement and you see hundreds of film cans. And you say, “I’m working on a film about the history of writing.” And he goes, “Oh, I know…” He goes off and gets it, four cans. And then you sit there for two hours watching these cans of films. And then you get on the reel to reel and you pick the shots you want and he charges you two dollars per shot. So I come to America with my films. I’ve set up a tour by having a screening at Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema. Lynn introduced me to Craig. Craig sets up a screening of my films and the films that I took to Oberhausen. I had 12 prints. It’s quite heavy. I put them in a suitcase to the States. And then I tour up and down the States. I went to San Francisco. I went to Olympia, Washington. I went to Seattle, Washington. I got put up… because my film had done well in Seattle. I did some things with Super 8 in San Francisco with a guy name Danny Plotnick. And Danny Plotnick has recently released a book on the history of Super 8. I recommend any of the old Super 8 folks to look at that. Plotnick taught some animation classes as he was the coordinator of workshops at Film Arts Foundation like Open Channel in Melbourne. Imagine Open Channel, but instead of it being TV, it’s for film, right?

DDB: You’re in San Francisco. Things that only half-worked in Melbourne were working in San Francisco.

DC: Apart from the found footage it was about optical printing, reprinting and layering found footage onto other shots. So what was the reason for all this? And I asked myself this, because as a cultural scholar, this is an actual art movement. Both the found footage thing and the optical printing thing were part of what I think was a broader movement, which was a sort of post-modern cultural critique of commercial culture generally in the Western world. And it was part of the punk movement at that time, the hip-hop movement. All around the world people are using remediation as a form of political protest.

DDB: I read that the JK optical printer actually emerged out of the San Francisco Art Institute. That’s where it was invented. Robert Nelson asked Jaakko Kurhi (JK), a technician in the area to come up with something.

DC: These people I’m talking about, Lynn Sachs, Craig Baldwin, they all come out of the Art Institute. So they’re all steeped in Bruce Connor, filmmakers who use remediated footage. It’s to do with putting a frame around the frame around the frame. A sense of recursion, time feeding back on itself? That’s to do with the nature of the West Coast and the cyclic nature of coastal awareness.

DDB: There was Pat O’Neill.

DC: Pat O’Neil is a regular at Other Cinema. I got to know Craig quite well doing a 3D anaglyph calendar for Other Cinema, and animating the titles and inter-title graphics for Oh No Coronado. I did some animation also with Lynn Sachs briefly that year. And I ended up going to Seattle and Vancouver, staying there for a few weeks. I came back to San Francisco, did a few more workshops and then eventually came back to Australia, but then I got the job at Beam Software.

David Cox in his studio

DDB: Right. Where does Otherzone fit into this narrative?

DC: Well, Sarah Johnson, who later became Sarah Zarder and I had been talking about work, because she worked on Puppenhead, and she worked on quite a few of the Super 8 films as well.

DDB: Sarah was prominent in the organisation of the Super 8 group wasn’t she?

DC: Yeah. I’d known her because we’d been classmates at Rusden. We said, “Look, we just had a hit. Why don’t we try for a grant?” So I said, “Look, I’ve just come back from the US and there’s some interesting ideas going around the Bay area at the moment. Why don’t I try and stuff them all into a film? A 35mm film, and we’ll try and make it really glossy and cool?”

These themes are all to do with identity, communications, whether you can tell whether something is real or not; artificial intelligence. The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1999) was being made at the same time. I didn’t know anything about it but I think my film is doing a completely different thing from The Matrix. Otherzone came from Other Cinema, and Zone came from Greta Snyder’s film, No-Zone (1993). I wrote the script starting in ’93 with a Film Commission grant. Adrian Martin got on board as the script editor. We had a final draft by ’95. I was actually in Los Angeles when I got the news, in Santa Monica, that the Film Commission agreed to finance it.

DDB: Right.

DC: So I busted open some champers and lit a joint and leaned back in my Los Angeles lounge feeling like a movie tycoon. But the problem is sync sound. I don’t like sync sound. If I have a choice, I don’t shoot sync sound, and this film was all dialogue and all sync sound.

DDB: Otherzone’s technological twists and innovative framing of images predicts contemporary digital design.

DC: I story boarded every single scene. John Power turned the storyboard into an animatic. We identified which shots would be either one of several kinds of shots: fully 35; 35 and computer-generated combined; 100% computer generated; computer generated combined with live action that was supposed to be real; computer generated with action that was supposed to be simulated. So there were those five categories of sticker types for each shot in the storyboard.

DC: And anything that was digital in any way was relegated to Betamax tape, digital D1 tape, and anything that was 35 stayed 35. And everything that was done digitally stayed on D1 until it was put on 16mm and then blown up to 35 to be cut into the 35 as 35. And the sound mix was done digitally by Phillip Brophy, and then married to the film soundtrack in the sync studio. But the whole process of making the film with a crew of 100 people and having the casting process, it forced a certain constraint in terms of creative expression that you don’t get in other forms of filmmaking. So yes, you get more money to make glossier films but the production method itself constrains you creatively because of time.

Sound designer Philip Brophy at work on the intricate surround sound quadraphonic Dolby soundtrack for Otherzone

DDB: And all the people you have to pay, as well.

DC: They deserve to be paid. But the union rates reflect a model which is kind of inflexible. Because everyone has to be paid, everyone has to fill a job description that it is assumed will be there no matter what. So if I go out on the street with my iPhone and shoot some scenes for a movie, I can do that. The technology now allows me to do everything I did on Otherzone, basically with six people.

DDB: Yeah, so this marks a transition. Otherzone‘s content is critical of those structures you used to produce it. You also had Marie Hoy and Stelarc in Otherzone.

DC: Well, I loved Marie Hoy’s on-screen persona, in her stage appearances in the band No, I used to go see. I was friendly enough with her to be able to talk to her afterwards and have a cigarette and a beer. I knew her a little bit through Ollie Olson and Troy Innocent. She looked like what I imagined the character would look like.


DDB: The way she looks and engages really speaks to something rebellious.

DC: It’s an indignant kind of disgust with everything around her, which I find quite appealing. But she doesn’t take herself too seriously either. We got Max Fairchild, and Max Fairchild was awesome because he’d been in some George Miller Mad Max films and he brought a sense of the ‘70s to the film. So I did want a little bit of glamour in it because it was filmed around where the original Mad Max was filmed, subconsciously, which is the area around Williamstown near Scienceworks. Where they filmed the halls of justice. So when we filmed at Scienceworks, you can actually see the halls of justice in the distance and that’s a little nod to Mad Max.


DDB: Well, that’s an amazing space too, because it sits underneath the Westgate Bridge, which reminds me of Metropolis.

DC: There’s definitely some Metropolis themes in Otherzone. In fact, Stelarc is supposed to be like Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster. Otherzone is a curiosity piece from the ‘90s.


DDB: When I showed Otherzone to a group of students, that’s the way that they’re used to watching narratives now. There’s something nostalgic about it, but there’s also something very predictive. The cloth over the face predicts the emergence of VR.

DC: Well, thanks. In the ‘90s, I had the good fortune to be invited to MIT by William J. Mitchell, who was an alumnus of RMIT.

DDB: Really?

DC: My master’s thesis was on electronically mediated urban space. And part of it was I’d read the Stewart Brand book about the media lab, and I said “Look, how about it? Can I just come over there and into the wearables and all this?” And he said, “Sure, come over. Write me a letter and I’ll invite you over.” So I ended up getting some money from Business Victoria to go over and find out what was going on at MIT on a visiting scholarship. So while I was there, I went once in ’95 and again as a visiting scholar in ’98. The first time I went, I got a chance to see people using wearable computing on an everyday basis. 

DC: And the talk was, everything that you see here, the monitor, wires, gloves, it can be just fabric. Monitors will become fabric. You could just put on a scarf and that would be your VR.

DDB: Otherzone came out of such insights?

DC: They happened concurrently, I’d been into cyberpunk fiction. Our share house was a real hub of activity in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. We always had copies of William Gibson’s novels on the kitchen table. We had a terminal in that kitchen that communicated via BBS to John Hardy’s dad’s factory’s BBS. Julian Assange was getting starting, around Fitzroy with his Commodore 64. So Fitzroy was kind of a hacker’s paradise.

DDB: What was the name of that book you wrote that was all about hackers?

DC: Culture Jammers.

DDB: Beam Software?

DC: When I got back from the first trip in ’92 with my film Puppenhead. I got a call from John Bird, the head of the animation department at Swinburne, now at RMIT. He said, “One of our post-graduates went to work for Beam Software, and it was under a scheme called the National Teaching Company Scheme by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He didn’t drop the ball. He just decided it wasn’t for him and has left. Would you be interested in taking his place?” And I said, “Well, what does it involve?” And he said, “Well, it involves one day of studying with me at the AIM Institute, Animation Interactive Multimedia and four days at Beam Software being a games producer of Sega and Nintendo video games”, which I played relentlessly. And what do you think I said? I said, “Yeah, fucking let me in. It sounds like a dream job from heaven.”

DDB: I think you also had a column in The Age.

DC: I had a column called Frontier Media. The Age newspaper called John Bird. Do you know anyone who can write about this newfangled digital crap? It was all new. In the mid ‘90s, the only people who used computers were business people.

DDB: We crossed paths at AIM in RMIT. I was doing a Master’s on Interactive Personal Family Albums.

DC: I used to come by there. I finished my Master’s there in 2003, started ’95.

DDB: It was a transitional period. There was a group that used to meet physically to talk about meeting online.

DC: Now we’re doing the opposite. John Bird said to this editor, this guy can help you. It’s more challenging than you think to come up with something brand new every seven days to a deadline, and to do it within 750 words, but I’ve never been so well-paid for writing.

DDB: I don’t think being well paid happens anymore either.

DC: I found myself in very precarious situations because of my traveling. Part of the arrangement with the Department of Industry, Trade, and Technology was that I would eventually travel to visit companies around America. That gave me an excuse to go straight back to San Francisco and hang out with all my friends. So I lived this double life of officially being technological producer guy, you know and on the other hand, I was this beatnik freak hanging out with weirdos.

DDB: You made a choice of going to San Francisco rather than Los Angeles.

DC: This is the preferred city of people who wish to remain more experimental in their work. And that’s a tradition from the ‘40s, but that’s changing. The technologists have seized control of the Bay Area more and more. The old spirit here hasn’t gone completely.

DDB: 360 degrees. Once you got in San Francisco, you really started to look at that new technology too, didn’t you?

DC: I’ve always been excited by 360 and VR. The imaging cameras you can get now offer a pretty decent representation of what it’s like to be somewhere. You can provide someone with a sense of what it was like to actually occupy a geographic space. That offers some really interesting creative possibilities for empathy, communicating a sense of the geospatial, a sense of the reminiscent. We have a voyeuristic dimension to the screen arts which can be better made use of. I’m fascinated by the state between wakefulness and dream, when you’re waking up or you’re just falling asleep. It’s difficult to communicate that within the confines of a screen, but I think it might be possible to do something like that with 360.

David Cox

DDB: I have experienced this empathy and intimacy in a documentary about Green Cards that African-Americans needed in order to travel in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Sitting at a New York restaurant table in VR, listening to African-Americans tell their stories while you sat next to them was very powerful.

DC: The quality of the image doesn’t have to be high to communicate the sense of being in a different time space. With 360, we accept the limitations as part of the payoff of being somewhere else. What does the language of VR and AR look like? What are the kinds of words and symbols we’re going to use to communicate in order to pass on how to produce these experiences? That’s what I’m interested in.

When I go to the Augmented World Expo I’m constantly proselytising and evangelising the concept of a universal language of VR and a universal language of AR, just as we have one for cinema, the close up, the wide shot, the cut, the dissolve, the tripod, the lens. What do we have for VR? It’s a different cognitive set of requirements for this art form that need an acknowledgement of the role of programming, that need an acknowledgement of the role of theatre and design and architecture, dance, music, and time-based forms as well. So it does require a new language, and that’s really what I’m pushing for when I do this.

DDB: I have heard you talk about peripheral vision operating in 360 degree environments.

DC: I’ve spent quite a lot of time in meditation spaces in VR. And these are quite kitsch, kind of Christmas card-like spaces with a windmill and butterflies flying at night and this kind of thing, like very much slow down kind of places. But even though they’re kitsch and even though they’re cheesy, they’re very powerful because when you go into them and you find that there’s a tree with a little fire in it and you can sit in this hollowed out tree, it’s as if you have found a real tree and a real fire, and you’re hiding in a tree, and outside is a magical moonlight place with a windmill. You really are there. You’re there in a way that watching a film about a place like that you’re not there.

DDB: It engages your whole body, not only your sight or your ears.

DC: We were talking about St. Kilda and that memory I had of eating fish and chips under the roller coaster. That was the sort of thing that would lend itself perfectly to VR.

DDB: The old technology of attractions, Luna Park, comes back in VR.

DC: What comes back is the psychology of the placement of things such that they’re subsequent navigation by the user has meaning as intended by the planner of that space for narrative effect.

DDB: You’ve also been working on Craig Baldwin’s latest project. But you’ve been doing your performance involving Bletchley Park and Alan Turing. That performance has an immersive quality.

DC: The idea for this came when the announcement was made that Alan Turing would be featured on the next 50 pound note in belated honour of his service. I was quite moved by this. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a huge admirer of Alan Turing. So I thought now is the time, really. I’ve done a few of these performances at Other Cinema, they’re operas. I write and perform the music usually with a small ensemble or band. A couple of opera singer friends, they were hugely rehearsed for months and months, and then put on and that was it. They demonstrated the success of combining film with live performance. This time, I’ve got a friend called Ben Wood, a projection artist with data projector, involved in VR. He’s English, just got his US citizenship, and he’s done a performance about that. Anyway, during the war the allies had to crack the German enigma. The Germans used enigma cipher machines to encode their Morse code field messages. People sell enigma machines for $250,000.

DDB: Valued as a work of art?

DC: They’re beautiful things, engineered to perform at very high level. One of them was found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea last year by aquatic divers, and they thought it was a typewriter. I thought of a separate story: some old tapes by Alan Turing that had been put into the Colossus machine had been found stuffed behind some drywall where they had the Colossus machine. What if they got the restored enigma and fed Turing’s tapes through it. Maybe they could make contact with Alan Turing. I play with my keyboard and voice to create the mood. We feed the tape through a cardboard enigma made out of found components. We bring back Alan Turing in the form of my friend, Ben Wood, saying aphorisms about his life and work. That’s called the Ultra Tapes.

DDB: That cardboard enigma reminds me of the Tatlin aesthetic. What about BivoLab?

DC: Yeah, so BivoLab comes out of my work and association with my wife Molly Hankwitz. We’ve been working together since we met, in 1998. She and I were both on our way to Boston and to the MIT area at the same time. We had a mutual interest in technology, art, architecture, media, and situationism, which was like the full house for me. In fact, when we met I was showing Super 8 of my visit to Europe, Panaramacon, I went to the Bauhaus museum and I filmed the Moholy-Nagy sculpture, light space modulator. And she recognised it and that’s how we hit it off, over the light space modulator. We’ve been working together on ideas to do with city, clay, situationism, surveillance, and we create events for people involving QR codes. So you can map all the surveillance cameras in the area you are in, record a voice, put up a QR code, and the QR code takes you to a recording about what you think of the surveillance cameras. And also adding to a public map, not a Google map, a public map, open maps, about the cameras in the area. So just getting people conscious of maps and surveillance and using open source. We’ve done one recently about masks where people scan a mask or a QR code on a wall and are invited to make a comment about what they feel about wearing the mask. We’re into building databases and having public comment.

DDB: The attitude to surveillance cameras has shifted a lot in the last decade. I do a lot of time-lapse filming in public spaces. Last year I had my camera smashed while filming a supermarket in the Netherlands.

DC: Yeah, I think Europe has a different relationship to camera lenses than America does. The French are way more camera shy than the British, for example. It’s left over from World War Two, you know. Oh, we better let the government spy because the Germans will invade otherwise.

DDB: What do you think about the impact of the COVID situation on these technologies?

DC: Well, it’s been disastrous. I mean, I suppose it’s forced people closer together through mediation, but it’s also made them go slightly batshit crazy. So we’ve had better coverage of people going crazy.

DDB: Right. And so we know why they go crazy now

DC: Yeah, but you know, what do you expect? Hopefully, it’s eased up a bit. Yeah, but it’s been a horrible mass experiment in self-isolation on an inhuman scale.

DDB: There’s a history there around technology and the way you’ve kind of weaved your way through it from early childhood right until now.

DC: We were from the Midlands, the hub of engineering. Birmingham had been the powerhouse of production all the way through most of the 20th century. And after World War Two, it was all winding down. My grandad was an electrical engineer at a glass company. Birmingham was just constantly making stuff and you were conscious of the importance of manufacturing and production as you grew up.

DDB: And you’ve occupied a different sort of factory now, haven’t you?

DC: The tension between the data miners and the data pioneers are the data pirates, the sheer greed of Silicon Valley and what’s left of the soul of California. It’s as titanic as any war between the French and the English. There’s a huge gulf in the US between those that would seek to basically colonise any square inch of value. Everything we talk about, everything that we’ve lived through is seen by the new data class as something they haven’t been able to commercialise yet. They interpret everything possible of the deepest corner of your memory. Everything that you and I have that we’ve lived through would be seen as to be cut up into jigsaw puzzle pieces and sold in some way if they could figure out how to do it.

DDB: One thing I’d add is that Vilem Flusser says that every revolution is at its base a technical revolution before it enters the social and political.

DC: That’s true.

DDB: You’ve lived through lots of different technological transformations that have changed the world.

DC: I’d also want to say something about Julian Assange because I figure that he’s taken a different path, but not really, because what he sacrificed is really the price of someone pointing out America’s own policy to itself. He’s basically being as honest to the American ideal as Thomas Paine was. Like Paine, he’s paid a high price for being true to his revolutionary ideals. He’s been sacrificed on the altar of hypocrisy. I think every one of us who dares to lay a claim to experimentation and risk needs to genuflect before Julian Assange as a Melbourne hero of media who managed to point out the weaknesses in the system, make it accountable to its own otherwise totally unaccountable power. And any good American would agree with Julian on what he’s trying to do, because to me he is a good American. That’s what makes him a good Australian and a good American, and as someone who is both he should be championed by both.

DDB: I’m glad we mentioned Melbourne.

DC: But here’s the thing, Dirk. It could be any one of us in that jail.

DDB: Well, it is. Part of us is in that jail. There’s things that have been forgotten and denied in who we are in that jail. I think of Australia as a place built on layers of denial. And Julian Assange’s position is read politically like that within Australia. We have to be reminded, as you just did, that he came from Melbourne.

DC: The films of mine that resonate, resonate for the same reasons what he’s done has resonated. People feel they want to reveal what’s behind the curtain. And that’s really what we’re all doing. The films are there to make the world clearer, not more opaque, even if the methods they use are opaque.


For a comprehensive overview of David Cox, including biographical details and filmography, visit Bill Mousoulis’ Innersense page here: http://www.innersense.com.au/mif/cox_d.html


  1. Screen Australia, ‘The Screen Guide’, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/puppenhead-1990/2945/, accessed 29 Dec. 21
  2. Imdb, ‘Otherzone’, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0454624/, accessed 29 Dec. 21
  3. Note from filmmaker on his film Onus on Us: “I made this film between 1981 and 1988 – working on it on and off. It ended up being feature length and a combination of sound and silent super 8, and was eventually the basis of a film-performance. I seldom showed it without performing live alongside it – music and spoken word, along with mikes in the audience for them to contribute to the soundtrack.”

About The Author

Dirk de Bruyn has been practicing, writing and curating in the area of experimental film and animation for over 35 years. He is currently teaching Animation and Digital Culture at Deakin University in Melbourne, Victoria (Burwood Campus).

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