Friday, May 26, 2017

CODE EMPIRE

Code Empire Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


In Code Empire I have painted Earth and its moon in binary code that repeats/instructs the word EMPIRE. But the full code is not seen, as it wraps around the planet and the moon. Various satellites are positioned in space, and signals radiate into - or - from outer space. 

Code Empire is a continuation of my interest in trying to portray and reflect upon the influence of contemporary digital and cyber technology in our daily lives generally, and in war and conflict specifically. A recent article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" by Ian Shaw directly spurred me to create Code Empire.(1) In the article, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Security Dialogue, Shaw discusses "more-than-human geopolitics" by drawing nonhuman entities, cyborgs, artificial intelligence and algorithms etc, into the realm of geopolitical influence, particularly regarding warfare. The notion of empire is applied to the way contemporary technology enmeshes the planet in a way the sets preconditions for a future dominated by algorithms, artificial intelligence and robotic forces. Shaw uses terms such as "planetary technics" and "robo-mesh". I particularly like "robo-mesh"! His article raises a plethora of questions about the future of war, security and surveillance, and humanity's place in a world where technology not only changes where and how humans live, but also notions of human agency, power and involvement.    

The World Needs Artists
As regular readers know, I have a keen interest in contemporary weaponised technology, especially airborne drones, increasing autonomy in weapon systems, swarming capabilities and ubiquitous surveillance technology. Code Empire channels all these interests as well as my interest in cosmological perspective. I propose that cosmic perspectives, albeit imagined, are useful ways to critically view current global geopolitical machinations. When I say "imagined", I know some people find it hard to transport themselves beyond the here, now and the obvious - that's why the world needs artists!

Cosmic Perspective
With a cosmic perspective, a few readings of Code Empire are possible. Maybe it exposes the infiltration of militarised surveillance facilitation beyond Earth's atmosphere to dual-use communication and GPS satellites; the digital 'empire' already extended into space? If this is the case it is not just the planet enmeshed in code, but also our atmosphere and beyond. Human endeavours regarding technological development are to be marveled, but ultimately is there a human cost, perhaps not initially apparent? Researchers at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute and others have certainly determined that there are risks with accelerating developments in new technologies, including artificial intelligence. 

What if...?
Whilst Code Empire might depict Earth and the moon, it may not be an image of anything in our solar system at all! It could be another planet in another star system or galaxy - or universe, also enmeshed by code! Or, it could be 'evidence' that Earth, and possibly the universe, may be a simulation run by posthumans. My painted signals may not be radiating out from Earth, but into it from some kind of external/remote motherboard entity. Here, I am thinking of philosopher Nick Bostrom's simulation theory, which I have previously written about.* It is useful to think about the idea of a posthuman simulation, because it implies that the human species no longer exists. If we are not a simulation, thinking about a post - human world might trigger more critical and urgent examinations of the role militarised-capable technology plays as a threat to not only human agency but also human species existence. 

As Shaw notes in another article, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World" Understanding the worldliness of algorithms is to view them as forces embedded in the flesh, texture, steel, stone, and undulating atmospheres of our more-than-human co-existence.  (2)

Co-existence - for now!

___________________________


(1) Ian Shaw, A pre-corrected draft version of Shaw's article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" is currently available on Shaw's Academia.edu page. It has been accepted for publication in Security Dialogue.
(2) Ian Shaw, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World", a paper presented at Intervention Symposium – Algorithmic Governance Organised by Jeremy Crampton and Andrea Miller, published in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Georgraphy, 5.


* Some other paintings where I reference Nick Bostrom's simulation theory. 
And, my designated page:

Please also visit my DRONESCAPES page.

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 18, 2017

FOREVER WATCHED

Forever Watched Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


In Forever Watched a group of human beings stand together under a cage of yellow rays. Is the source of these rays a spotlight, a protective force-field, surveillance signals from an obscured drone or maybe a computer-graphic rendering of a kill zone? Maybe humanity is being lit by a star on a cosmic stage? Is it God sending divine light? Is it magic? 

This painting is another of my cosmic landscapes where I play with perspective, literal and metaphoric. With cosmic perspectives events such as conflict and war are clearly futile and over consumption of natural resources seems like a death wish. Risk takes on new dimensions when we really think about the fact that, for the time being anyway, Earth is our only home! Looking after it and ourselves seem like sensible things to do.

But, there are forces afoot that create and maintain tension.

The 21st century is an era of pervasive and ubiquitous surveillance. In the 22nd century will the 21st century be considered the beginning the 'forever watched epoch'? 

Surveillance occurs when data is collected from  GPS systems and mobile phone usage. Internet usage and browsing history delivers more data. Crowd monitoring in shopping centers and at events gleans even more data. We are under surveillance at airports, our documents cross-checked, our bodies and belongings xrayed and our movements around the globe recorded. 

There is a plethora of ways for people to be watched, passively or aggressively.

In some areas of the world airborne drones monitor individuals and groups for signs of behaviour that, for those watching, may indicate malign intent. This kind of surveillance acts as a type of quasi-military policing, placing fear into those who are constantly watched and monitored. That a drone could quickly turn from surveillance mode to killing mode couples surveillance with lethal weaponry in one device. The drone then becomes a multi faceted dexterous device - private detective, witness, analyst, prosecutor, judge and executioner combined!

Being watched, however, can be considered a way to ensure citizenry safety - a protective practice. Yet, there is something rather creepy about being under constant scrutiny. And, have things become bad enough to require constant scrutiny/protection?  Arguably, being forever watched could be considered an insidious way to insert mechanisms of control across domains. Welcome to the "everywhere war"(Derek Gregory, 2011).


Cosmic Testimony Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 11, 2017

COSMIC TESTIMONY

Cosmic Testimony Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


WITNESSING
Giving testimony is that act of providing evidence of an event, an occurrence, a behaviour or even a phenomenon. Maybe it is an eyewitness testimony? Or, it could be a "flesh witness" testimony from someone who has an immersive experienced in something, rather than observational one? Yuval Noah Harari's article "Scholars, Eyewitnesses, and Flesh-Witnesses of War: A Tense Relationship," is a terrific introduction to the nuanced differences between an eyewitness and a "flesh witness".

In Cosmic Testimony a number of questions about witnessing are triggered. Is the image a projected future scenario that provides a chance to witness the future in order to preempt disaster? Here, I take my cue from Forensic Architecture's postulation that "forensic futures" are possible. Although, I do not use new media, digital data or documentary techniques to create my images, the idea of touching the future is really tantalising. Here's a quote from the Forensic Architecture website, "forensic futures sets out to document the enabling conditions of violence, and offers an archive that may be called upon to testify in the future." Here, a key idea is "enabling conditions of violence". The Forensic Architecture website mentions patterns of behaviour that are likely to be repeated in the future as an indication of "enabling conditions".

REPEATING PATTERNS
In Cosmic Testimony there are hints of a number of repeating patterns - extreme climate events - increasing presence of surveillance - the presence of ever increasing developments in militarised technology ie: drone capabilities. But, there are no real answers - it's a painting after all! Rather than answers, there are questions. Was the fire caused by the small but lethally armed red drone - its Hellfire missiles erupting in massive destruction? Depending on your answer you might read the human figures, enclosed by a cage of yellow rays, as either captured or protected? Are they captured in surveillance signals of an airborne drone? Maybe they are targeted and a kill zone is delineated around them? Or, maybe the yellow rays are protective, some kind of divine force keeping humanity safe? The fire may be an Australian firestorm. Indeed, firestorms and floods seem to occur with increasing frequency around the world, presenting evidence that extreme climate change is potentially a major existential risk to humanity. Yet, the fire is inspired by my childhood memories of my father burning off crop stubble.* 

COSMIC PERSPECTIVE
With a cosmic perspective patterns become obvious. This is at the same time it becomes clear that humanity has nowhere else to go if Earth is compromised to the extent it cannot support life. Distance provides the space for a kind of witnessing where "patterns of behaviour" by "familiar cast of characters" help to foretell a future where violence, ignorance and unsustainable practices could be the norm. 

TREE-OF-LIFE
However, in Cosmic Testimony I  have included my version of the transcultural/religious tree-of-life as another kind of evidence - of sustainable life! The presence of the tree and its roots, coupled with the fire symbolically speak of renewal, potency and rebirth. The spinney of leaves speak of time passing and act as a pathway for humanity. Ultimately, the painting presents a few possible futures for humanity - good and bad - each largely depending on choices we make here and now in the twenty-first century. This is one of the messages Martin Rees conveyed in his fascinating book Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-First Century? 



Stirring the Dark Chasm Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


Other fiery paintings:

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 04, 2017

HOT

Hot Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


CROP STUBBLE
Regular readers will have noticed a few fires in my recent paintings. The inspiration is drawn from childhood memories of my father burning crop stubble. Magnificent fires, over hectares of ground, lit as the sky darkened...the most still part of the day. These fires took over the horizon in ways that brought the Milky Way closer. Embers and stars seem to meet - fleetingly. The flat treeless plain, where my parents' farm was situated, provided fire with a 'canvas' of vast proportions.   

In my recent paintings I've transported my childhood memories into cosmic landscapes where orientation is somewhat ambiguous. I really like the sense of flying! In Hot I imagine I could be an ember or a star! You could be too.

SERIOUSLY, HOT
But, seriously Hot does engage with issues relating to global warming and environmental sustainability. Here, in Australia fires and firestorms seem to have become fiercer and more regular, particularly during our long hot summers. 'Heated' debates about how land is prepared or not prepared for fire possibilities occur, before and after fire events. Farmers, green lobbyists, environmentalists, government departments argue about the best ways to prevent fire occurring and spreading. But, we approach each summer with trepidation.

What if the fire in Hot is Earth's last remnant, consumed by cataclysmic devastation? Or, it could be a painting of the future, when the Sun meets its demise and the solar system is destroyed. Maybe Hot is the Sun's last gasp, Earth already non-existent? Maybe it's not Earth or our Sun? Maybe, it's a fire at another cosmic address?

Other fiery paintings:

Cheers,
Kathryn


Thursday, April 27, 2017

FIRE AND FLOOD: EXTREMUS

Fire and Flood: Extremus Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


PLANETARY HOME
I have painted another image that speaks to our planetary home's current environmental dilemmas - extreme weather events, environmental degradation, pollution and more. What is not consumed by fire and heat will be subsumed by flooding waters - maybe? 

The type of landscape is unclear - it appears to be both sky and land, cosmic even. Is the fire a sign of earthly remnants burning off their last signs of existence? Is the flood the spilling of cosmic tears? Are we looking through tears down onto a landscape or up through them to an endless sky? Maybe the fire and the flood are ghostly essences, reminders that a planet once existed? 

But, maybe the fire and flood are signs of new life, a cauldron of possibility? Maybe fire, water and unseen forces are stirring universal alchemic processes that bring forth new possibilities? These new possibilities - material or spiritual...

INSPIRATION
Apart from thinking about our planet and its future, and therefore humanity's future, this painting was inspired by recent devastating floods here in Queensland, Australia, in the aftermath of super-Cyclone Debbie. I have personally experienced rising waters in four floods, one in Dalby where I grew up, two in Goondiwindi where I lived for eighteen years and one in Brisbane during the 2011 floods. Fortunately none caused major losses. However, I do know what it is like to be an island, completely cut off, snakes seeking the same high ground you are on, the dankness of mud as the waters recede...

The painting is also inspired by memories of the massive fires my father and other farmers lit to burn off crop stubble. This practice was stopped at some stage and farmers then started to plough stubble back into the soil. However, I still have vivid childhood memories of fires that covered whole paddocks. Flames leaped into the air, into darkening skies. These flames seemed to lick at the stars, teasing them. Dusk and at night were the safest times for the farmers to set fire to stubble...the air is still then. 

The dark night skies of my childhood are the entry points for my cosmic travelling - imagined in my paintings. 


RECENT NEWS
The Center for the Study of the Drone, Bard College, New York conducted an interview with me about my dronescapes. The interviewer is Maggie Barnett.  Portfolio: Dronescapes by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

Cheers,
Kathryn

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

STIRRING THE DARK CHASM

Stirring the Dark Chasm Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 017


Fiery environments have featured in a few of my recent paintings. Here in Stirring the Dark Chasm a swarm of weaponised drones seem to be engulfed by flames of their own making. But, are they flames erupting from bomb sites where destruction has ensued? Or, have the flames been released from some kind of abyss? Maybe both! 

But look closely, trees-of-life are also emerging from the flames, or is it an abyss? The trees are escaping the heat as they trail their branches across the cosmic sky. Safe passage for life and humanity, perhaps.

There is always hope!


COSMIC LANDSCAPE - DRONESCAPE
This is another of my cosmic landscapes. It is also a dronescape. The cosmic perspective enables the viewer to distance themselves in ways that may trigger new ways of looking at things. The viewer could be looking up at a sky, witnessing a battle taking place above a landscape. Maybe it's a battle of machine against machine at some stage in the future? Or, the viewer could be looking down onto the drones and their fiery bedevilment. In this case, the viewer maybe looking upon a landscape, where an abyss has opened with intent to consume unmanned forces. Skyscape/landscape!

As in many of my dronescapes and cosmic landscapes the viewer can, using imagination, fly around in my paintings. When I was a child I flew! Please check out my painting and post When I Was A Child I Dreamt I Could Fly

And, what are the metaphoric possibilities? Are accelerating developments in drone technology taking humanity on a high speed path to oblivion? Or, are increasingly autonomous systems offering us freedom, security, fulfillment? Or, are we replacing existing problems with a set of new ones ultimately even more difficult to resolve?  The abyss... is of course...metaphoric. But, the trees-of-life do offer hope.

Cheers,
Kathryn


Friday, April 14, 2017

A NEW SUN, A NEW DAY

A New Sun, A New Day Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017



Geopolitics
Geopolitical agitations are currently heightened. We have the USA bombing Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens. The identity of the perpetrator of this horrendous act is contested. One country points a finger at Syrian leadership and another points a finger at covert actions by others, ghosts that seep into imaginations, adding to a fear which cannot find a ground on which to orient itself. Additionally, we have Russia and the USA metaphorically 'fisting' each other, trying to show who has the biggest muscles. Syria seems to be the mega-giants' proxy battlefield where they have inserted themselves into a civil war that seems diabolically intractable. The Russian - USA 'situation' is compounded by ongoing allegations of shifty cyber world maneuverings designed to spy and gain advantage of the other. Then, we have the USA stirring the secretive North Korea, China sitting somewhere in the middle - and the USA dropping a massive bomb onto an alleged ISIS enclave in Afghanistan. And...all of this is in addition to a long list of intrigues, attacks, would-be attacks, aftermath of attacks and political posturings occurring all over the globe. 

The Media
The media positions itself as an informational source, a valuable contributor to societal awareness of politics and its posturings. BUT, the media is also now a contested entity. Fake news has eroded the the media's spine, left it desperately tying to stand up straight. Harm has been done. What are we to believe? Public confidence is low. A lack of ground on which to orient our fears is possibly both a result of and cause of the media's inability to stand as an informational beacon. Many of the ghosts that stir fear, shifting it from place to place, exist in the virtual world where unseen algorithms spread 'news' along digital pathways at near light speed. This 'news' pops up in social media sites, online news sources and so on, to be sent back along digital pathways in quick response to 'likes', 'shares', comments and emoji reactions. 

How can we humans keep up? The ground is seemingly swept from under our feet, replaced by a constantly shifting virtual one. And, without a ground on which to firmly stand, orientation of any kind is difficult - maybe that is the real crime, the real attack, the real covert success?

A New Sun, A New Day
This 'skyscape' painting suggests waking up to a new day where peace reigns and sustainability of all kinds flourishes. Just imagine a day, and another day and another, without war, conflict, threat, surveillance, hunger, environmental erosion and all the the other plights of life in the 21st century! Imagine the ground restored so we can contemplate a new day, watch its slow birth as the sun rises and sets.

Imagine

Let us be sure that the new day, with its new sun, is not a virtual reality, one delivered by screens designed to keep our attention away from strife in the real world.

Imagine

Maybe a new sun and a new day are signs of peace on Earth - but - maybe not. 

The new sun could indicate a new planetary home?

______________________________________


P.S. My last post was also about the sun - or a sun SUN - 01010011 01010101 01001110



NEWS

NEWS
International
* Dr. Christopher J Fuller's book  See it?Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA's Lethal Drone Program has very recently been published by Yale University Press. Dr. Fuller is an historian at the University of Southampton, UK. In the lead up to the book's launch he was asked to write a post for the Yale University Press blog, "Yale Books Unbound". He asked to have one of my paintings head his post which is titled "The CIA's Drone Policy Under Trump". Dr. Fuller's post was published online at "Yale Books Unbound" (April 10, 2017).

* Very excited to tell you that my dronescapes feature in a book review of Ian Shaw's Predator Empire: Drone Warfare and Full Spectrum Dominance. The review was written by Kate Kindervater, from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA. Ian Shaw is an academic at Glasgow University who writes about drones, populations, surveillance etc from a human geography point of view. Needless to say I am thrilled that my work has been contextualised within important social and political discussions about drone technology. The review can be read HERE.

Australian
My painting The Tree-of-Life Sends its Energy Underground is on the front cover of the forthcoming Australian Women's Book Review. If you click HERE you will be taken to the AWBR site where you can see the painting and also link to an article by me. 

Cheers,  Kathryn

Friday, April 07, 2017

SUN - 01010011 01010101 01001110

SUN? Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


SIGNALS
I imagine our world increasingly 'marked' with invisible signals. These signals emanate to and from various electronic devices, digital and cyber devices, drones, and satellites. Airborne drones mark a kind of mid-point node, deployed to augment surveillance, targeting and and possible killing. In many of my recent dronescapes I attempt to make the insidiousness of signals visible. I paint signals emanating from drones, either visible or obscured. I paint signals and drones in cosmic skies to take the viewer's mind to places and perspectives beyond Earth's crust and atmosphere, beyond the low earth orbit of GPS satellites and beyond the geostationary orbit of communications satellites.

The cosmic appearance of my dronescapes enables viewers to 'fly' around drones, and their surveillance and scoping signals - to keep an eye on them! It is a defiant act!     

SUN?
In SUN? I have painted emanating rays that appear to be a sun's rays. But, take a closer look - the rays are painted with strings of binary code 'instructing' the word SUN - 01010011 01010101 01001110

Ah ha, the rays are not a sun's rays but the surveillance signals of an obscured drone - maybe? The ray-like appearance could be an attempt at decoy, camouflage, stealth, covert intent, propaganda. The binary code exposes the subterfuge.

By making code visible, even aesthetic, I try to expose the increasing influence algorithms have on life in the 21st century. I have a contrary enjoyment painting code by hand - it's never going to be perfect, although it might look good!

Why is the tree-of-life upside down? Well, there could be many reasons. It may have obscured itself from the surveillance by mimicking the ray's orientation. It may have sent its roots underground for protection. It may not even be on planet Earth! Maybe it's a sign that humanity has 'escaped' a roboticised Earth - or - maybe its an indication of alien life somewhere else?



NEWS
Very excited to tell you that my dronescapes feature in a book review of Ian Shaw's Predator Empire: Drone Warfare and Full Spectrum Dominance. The review was written by Kate Kindervater, from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA. Ian Shaw is an academic at Glasgow University who writes about drones, populations, surveillance etc from a human geography point of view. Needless to say I am thrilled that my work has been contextualised within important social and political discussions about drone technology. The review can be read HERE.

Cheers,
Kathryn