More on the Arts of the EHS matter

An addition to the newly evolving genre: The Arts of the EHS matter. There is a 35 minute (1998) film documentary, POWERLINES, thematically centred on EMR bioeffects, and produced by the wellknown composer Helen Hall who is EHS. Her film won the International Jury Award at International Festival of Films on Energy, Lausanne, 1999.

Domino Film and Television International, Canada, describes it as "A poetic documentary about groundbreaking new concepts of energy, and the mystery of electromagnetic pollution the film is an artistic interpretation of a scientific theme. POWERLINES weaves together advanced scientific research and ancient knowledge of energy with music, images, and dance.

The film vividly describes how we are affected by the invisible forces around us by making electromagnetic radiation visible and audible and by centering itself right on the edge of the transition into a global electronic culture. POWERLINES then explores what happens when we leave the world of pre-conceived ideas about our surroundings and enter into the pure realm of the senses.

POWERLINES takes us right into the cells of our own bodies, describing how inter-cellular communication takes place with very high electrical signals, and how, like computers, information in the body is stored in its own energy fields."

Below is more related to POWERLINES. Do any members of the group know of other arts based interpretations of EHS? If so, I would like very much to be made aware of them.

Best, Imelda, Cork.



Interview with Helen Hall
by Alexis Ducouré

S y n o p s i s Vol. 1 / No. 2 ©

Main Film - Montreal hiver/winter 1996/1997

Do not assume anything. That is the conclusion Alexis Ducouré made after talking to established composer and first-time filmmaker Helen Hall in the second interview in our EXPLORATIONS series featuring artists and professionals who have gone beyond their medium into film production. Hail is presently at the advanced post-production stage of a documentary film she also wrote and directed, called Powerlines. The film comes as a result of Halls own environmental hypersensitivity and explores the effects of electromagnetic fields in our daily environment. The film has been made primarily through the support of various organizations and individuals, such as the PAFPS program, the Canada Council. the Conseil des arts du Québec and Main Film, as well as much donated equipment and services at the National Film Board. Powerlines is being distributed by Cinema Libre, and Hall is anticipating it will be completed by the Spring of 1997.

Alexis Ducouré: Could you elaborate on what brought you to the medium of film?

Helen Hall: Four years ago I reached a point in my work and in my life where the issue of electromagnetic pollution had become inescapable. I decided to make a film about it because film seemed to be the best medium to explore this subject, and because of films sensitivity to light which is electromagnetic.

AD: Obviously your goal is not just artistic achievement, therefore what are your aims?

HH: I want to make radiation visible and audible, and then I want to explore the issue of electromagnetic radiation using images, music, sound, text and dance. The reason I include dance is because I found it is very important to show the relationship that electromagnetic fields have with living organisms.

AD: What are the consequences for you physiologically for doing this kind of work?

HH: When I started working in recording studios and with computers in the early 80s, the radiation from studio equipment and from computers made me sick. As a result of this I really had to limit my exposure to almost everything that plugs into a socket. Six years ago I became strong enough to be in the same room as a television, and in the last five years I have been strong enough to work with my computer again, and with a room full of equipment. The process of making this film has put a lot of stress on my health from standing under high-tension power lines to spending months and months in front of computers and with electronic equipment, to make the soundtrack.

AD: Do you think the symptoms you feel are shared by other people? That is, are we all affected by electromagnetic fields and is it just a matter of proportions?

HH: My experience with electromagnetic radiation is considered extreme because I also have extreme environmental hypersensitivity, an immune system disorder that results in adverse reactions to environmental factors. Electromagnetic sensitivity is
part of this condition, and even though my experience is extreme, it still means that other people are affected too, it is just a matter of how much. Classical physics doesn't understand the mechanism that would allow interaction between electromagnetic radiation and biological organisms, but this interaction is understood by scientists working with advanced concepts of physics. The process of electromagnetic radiation is what I describe in the film, based on my own experience and on advanced scientific research.

AD: We tend to believe that formal research is among the artists first objectives, particularly in cases like yours where you are already very knowledgeable in your subject area. Does that come into account in your film experience?

HH: I would have to say no, it doesn't. I am doing this because I feel I have to deal with this issue, but I could never separate this kind of issue from formal research because for me there is no distinction. I think it comes down to where the motivation is coming from. I am just trying to deal with an issue and to make it understood. And I feel that to make it understood it can not be a straight documentary because it is a very difficult issue to deal with.

Positive Disintegration


Powerlines breaks down the traditional separation between documentary and artistic filmmaking, as well as that between viewers and subjects. A documentary film about poverty, for example, or about people exercising unjust power over others, clearly identifies specific people as victims. The audience identifies wIth the struggle, such as that between the Cree of James Bay and Hydro Québec, which abused the rights of those who lived on the land that was flooded. Traditional documentaries are not directly threatening to viewers, because there are clearly identified victims and oppressors, and events happen in specific locations. But in cases of environmental sensitivity, the victims are decentralized and are not an easily identified group. Radiation is not limited to a specific place. It is happening everywhere; we can't get away from it. There are no clear solutions. A film about invisible electromagnetic pollution raises the question: is it real? To most, no; to Hall, yes.

It is difficult to accept this as the reality in which some people live. A 1995 film, Safe, by Todd Haynes, deals with environmental illness, and points out that it affects people from every economic bracket you can't buy protection from it, nor can you escape it. In one scene in Safe, a wealthy woman whose immune system is breaking down receives delivery of a couch that makes her sick, and she says, "Even my new couch is totally toxic." One reviewer of the film, who could not accept this, quoted the incident as an example of the filmmaker's sick sense of humour.

At the festival in Switzerland, Powerlines was controversial because it falls outside the usual form of film documentary. In the festival catalogue it was listed as "documentary/fiction," but to many viewers it seems esoteric and mystical, with a dream-like quality. For Hall, however, the film is completely documentary. There are no fictional elements at all; it is based on her life experience.

One of the symptoms of my condition when I'm in environments that are hostile to my immune system is an inability to process information. As a result of this I'm compelled to find underlying patterns and structural principles. Then I look for the resonant point where they meet with personal experience.

-- Helen Hall

Showing the film in public brings Hall face to face with people's cultural assumptions. At the festival, some viewers realized that Powerlines comes from a personal reality that falls outside shared European cultural norms. As one filmmaker pointed out, there are people who live in different worlds, such as First Nations people in North America. People like Hall may indeed live in a different world, but it is one without geographical definition it runs parallel with familiar everyday reality.

Hall has been considering the cultural implications of the film and her sensitivity for some time. She believes that we are in the midst of a cultural process of what she calls "positive disintegration." The boundary around the self is disintegrating, and susceptibility to chemical and electrical pollution is not the only indication of this. We are also losing the historical sense of individual privacy, as our transactions are everywhere recorded by computers and video cameras, as genes are spliced across species, as organs are transplanted and body parts replaced. We are affected increasingly by factors that come into our bodies and minds from outside, over which we have no control and against which we cannot defend ourselves. Our cultural immunity is vanishing under the influence of electronic media. The boundaries between ourselves, other people, and our environment are breaking down. Someone adversely affected by pollution knows a little more clearly than the rest of us that the elements that condition our existence can collapse at any point. There is no assurance that the future will correspond with expectations based on past experience.

We can't simply turn off the vast electrical networks around us to make ourselves safe, but we can find out more about them.

What happens when our senses tell us that everything we understood about the world around us is no longer true?

-- Helen Hall, from the script of Powerlines

Disintegration does have a positive side, however. As dualities begin to dissolve inside/outside, us/them, here/there changes take place in our perceptions, and our thinking and feeling are reintegrated. We learn to move with chaos as a way of transforming it. It's like the paradox of gravity: to defy it, you have to understand it and work with it. By experiencing the fragility of our condition, the constant possibility of transition and change, the loss of familiar reference points, we learn to trust our inherent intuitive perceptions. This experience resonates with one of the principles of systems theory, which describes the fluidity of the boundaries of the organism and the environment.

While working on Powerlines Hall began researching possible solutions to the problems inherent in current methods of energy production and use. Her next film, Zero Point, will document the current state of new energy science and the ongoing search for alternatives to existing ways of generating energy. Most scientists in this area are working in isolation without support from industry or government. Significant progress is being made, however, particularly in India and Japan where research into clean decentralized forms of energy has more support. Most of the processes being studied are infinite, nontoxic and renewable. If they come into use they could stop further deterioration of the environment by making current methods obsolete.

Hall believes that the new systems are related to a shift away from a limited cause-and-effect worldview, and that research confirms what many cultures already know intuitively: that we are part of the world around us. Artificial electromagnetic radiation is similar to chemical pollution, both resulting from outmoded thinking patterns and misplaced values. Our awareness that impermanence and insecurity are inescapable is intensifying as the cause-and-effect worldview is challenged and more interactive models are validated. Hall sees this as a hopeful positive result of the often-uncomfortable disintegration we are currently experiencing.

Helen Hall
Between Seeing and Hearing: Sensing Energy at Another Level.


Composer Helen Hall’s creative exploration of artificial electromagnetic radiation and its effects has resulted in an award-winning film, Powerlines. Conceptually the fundamental unit of the film is the waveform: sound as waveform; light as waveform; film as a medium which combines the two. Electromagnetic radiation is also a waveform; Hall can feel it, unheard and unseen but palpably present, like disruptive noise. The soundtrack for Powerlines is based on the sixty-cycle frequency of electrical power throughout North America, heard in recorded sounds from the environment and played on cello. Every sound in the film is part of the music. There is no distinction between music and soundtrack. When Hall began making this film she thought of it as music translated into dance and light, the dance and the visuals all coming originally from the music. During production Hall reached a point where there she had to find a balance between all the elements. Although she thought of herself as a composer, she was becoming a filmmaker.


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