Neurocam and the theatre of re-enchantment (Part 1)

On December 2004 the Saturday Age ran a story on its front page that would have profound consequences for my life. The story (worth a read if only for the quaint use of the term web logger) was an investigation into a strange organisation by the name of Neurocam. Neurocam had announced itself to the world via a billboard on Alexandra Parade and a website. Its modus operandi appeared to be  sending masked operatives of clandestine missions for purposes unknown. Was it a cult, an art experiment or something even more sinister? No one seemed to know but whatever it was, to me it sounded awesome!

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The infamous billboard

Curious, not to mention a little apprehensive, I decided I would investigate Neurocam further and possibly even join. I stuffed the newspaper article in my top desk draw and promptly forgot about it. Two months later, while clearing out the black whole that is my top desk draw, I rediscovered the article, recalled my initial curiosity and subsequently got online and sent an email to Neurocam applying to join. Almost immediately I received an email:

Dear Applicant

Thank you for expressing interest in Neurocam.

Your application has been forwarded to a designated officer within the Human Resources Security Division so that our organization can further evaluate your suitability for recruitment.

In the interest of facilitating an expedient assessment, the Human Resources Security Division is currently implementing a series of background checks.

While waiting for a response I began researching what information I could discover in the public sphere regarding this enigma. What I found was an entire blogging community of Neurocam operatives, with codenames names like Tript, American Guy, Teigan, Lady J and Xade. And so my journey down the rabbit hole began.

The day after sending the email I was walking down my street, on my way home from work. At the time I lived on one of the busiest arterials leading out of Melbourne’s CBD. Out of the corner my eye I saw a guy making a beeline for me from across the road, weaving his way through six lanes of afternoon peak hour traffic directly towards me. He was a big guy, unshaven, sweaty and somewhat dishevelled and he looked at me with what I thought was recognition.

‘Excuse me?’ he said, stepping right into my path. ‘Do you have the time?’

‘Um, sure. Around four-thirty.’

‘Thanks,’ he puffed. With that he turned and crossed back across the road, through the traffic and back on his way.

I was nonplussed. Was this some kind of test and was this random stranger an agent of Neurocam? As part of the Application process I’d had to provide my address and personal details, so it wasn’t out of the question. Suddenly I found myself thrust into a world of countless possibility, infused with subtle paranoia and profound numinosity. Anyone could be an agent of Neurocam; what strange tests awaited me?

A few days later I was formally confirmed as an operative with the self-selected moniker of Rorschach. Although I’d been experiencing something of a prolonged identity crisis in my life at the time, in retrospect choosing a mentally unstable, neo-fascist vigilante as my codename may not have been the most inspired choice. Nor perhaps was joining a shadowy covert-ops organisation as a way of resolving that identity crisis. But live and learn…

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Uh wot?

My first mission was to find and photograph a portal (I’m looking at you, JK), which lead me scurrying through city alleyways not knowing the full purpose or reason for what I was doing. I had a sense of just making it up as I went along, half using vague instructions and the rest with my imagination. I found a lovely red door in Guildford Lane, which could lead to nowhere else but to mystery. I took a photo of it and reported back with a commendation that I had done well. At the same time I delved deeper into the blogging community, starting a blog of my own that is long defunct and making a few online connections along the way.

What had I gotten myself into? Within the blogging community there was endless speculation but no real consensus about Neurocam. A consistent figure in it all was the involvement of Melbourne artist Robin Hely and the most likely explanation was that Neurocam was some kind of interactive art project. But nobody was certain about anything. Adding to the confusion there were also those that delighted in the obfuscation, adding their own muck to the mix through misdirection and barefaced lying. As Melbourne artist, Jess Kilby wrote, regarding her experience of Neurocam: “Occasionally a veil would drop and some sort of truth would seem to be revealed, but behind one veil there always seemed to be another.” Veils and lies and mysteries abounded. Everything could be read in muiltiple ways and nothing was as it seemed.

Soon after Neurocam appeared to undergo some kind of behind the scenes coup and to all extents was finished. After my initial search for portals I received no more missions. The organisation’s halcyon period was in the month after the initial Age article, when it attracted hordes of thrill seekers and curious minds. The black hole in my top desk drawer meant that I was a little late to the party.

The coup played out and was disseminated through the mouthpieces of selected bloggers within the community. Instead of being part of a giant mystery us operatives were now witnesses to an opaque soap opera and whatever sense of possibility, meaning and numinosity vanished with it. That which had made Neurocam so interesting had gone. As a community we were left to our own devices and speculations but we were no longer engaged in any cohesive movement. It was interesting and it was fun but the community lacked the transporting power that Neurocam had for us. People began to drift away from boredom of lack of fulfilment.

This wasn’t the end of the story, however. I’d happened to mention my involvement in Neurocam to a work colleague and it transpired that not only was she familiar with Neurocam, she knew two operatives, the bloggers Johanna and Xade. From there I was to encounter more operatives in the meat world and some of these were to become close friends. And more. I did mention that Neurocam would have profound consequences for my life and several years later I would end up marrying one of those operatives, Lady J. We’re no longer married but still remain good friends. Whatever else Neurocam may or may not have been at the very least it created a community and that community would leave a lasting impression on my life. Despite its failings, which are many, there is that.

To be continued…

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