Thursday, October 20, 2016


The Tree-of-Life Sends its Energy Underground Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Here, I have two paintings where the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life stands as a beacon in landscapes that are threatened. Indeed, life is threatened. Unmanned air vehicles [UAVs] or drones loiter in dark skies. These Reaper drones are each armed with four hellfire missiles and two guided missiles.

My last post talked about the sky becoming a contested place...a place where surveillance and attack threats from above create an artificial sky. It is a sky to be where distance has collapsed and access to the beauty of cosmological perspectives is obscured. Here, in this post I offer the tree-of-life as a symbol of hope. It is a symbol which is shared by many cultures and religions, including the three Abrahamaic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Now, that's something to think about!

The tree-of-life can 'speak' to hearts and minds. I know this from personal experience. In 2006 I had an exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Centre, [UAE]*. People from all over the region came to see the show. On a daily basis I had the most incredible conversations - all triggered by my paintings particularly those that depicted the tree-of-life. These conversation I call 'agenda-less, but not directionless'. 

I suggest the power of age-old symbols is still fervent but, especially in the West, we have lost our connections to them. We prefer the transience of  fads and fashion delivered via gadgets and our peril!

In these two paintings, The Tree-of-Life Sends Its Energy Underground and Fragmented, the trees-of-life, representing all life, are vulnerable to attack. The drones certainly seem to be targeting them. Yet, the trees have scattered their seeds, sap and embedded their roots across the landscape. Potential new trees hibernate in wait, laying dormant until it is safe. The landscapes seem ripe, fiery and fertile, ready to re-charge. Yet... these paintings could also be 'read' a different way. The trees could be 'wounded', close to death, their 'blood' seeping into the landscape. Maybe? 

These paintings can be viewed either as harbingers of catastrophe or harbingers of hope. Depends on your perspective and belief in the power of symbols. 

Fragmented Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

* I have previously written about my Abu Dhabi experience: Here are two posts:


This LINK takes you to a page where you can see pictures of all the finalist paintings, including mine Where There's Life There's...


Sunday, October 16, 2016


Rainbow Camouflage Gouache on paper 30 x 42cm 2016

Firstly news - my entry Where There's Life There's... was chosen as a finalist in the $15,000 Redland Art Award. It is amongst some other terrific work. The opening and the announcement of winners was a few days ago. Congratulations to the winner, Pollyxenai Joannou. 

Rainbow Camouflage and Drone Clouds both refer to natural phenomena we see in the sky: clouds and rainbows. They also refer to the figure of the drone, a human-made 'phenomena'. I am really interested in how the figure of the drone is changing and will continue to change human perceptions of the sky and landscape. The figure of the drone literally represents unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) as well as symbolising pervasive surveillance of our physical actions and our digital ones. For those who live in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places of conflict, the sky has become something to fear. Why? Because, drones loiter - watching - tracking -attacking. 

The posse of drones each painted with a colour from the rainbow are enroute to surveil and perhaps attack the the arced rainbow on the horizon. They are armed with Hellfire and guided missiles. The drones are camouflaged in an attempt to dupe the rainbow, but will they? But...maybe the rainbow is enticing the drones into a trap? The rainbow is fortified with the presence of trees-of-life, each painted a colour of the rainbow. The rainbow, of course can disappear, but its essence remains in the trees-of-life. What does this mean for the posse of rainbow coloured drones, representing 21st century fast paced and ubiquitous technological development, surveillance and more? I suppose that depends on us!

Is this a landscape or a skyscape? The sky is an arena of contest!

When I painted this painting lots of thoughts were running around in my head. But, I'll let your imaginations take flight now!

Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Clouds was inspired by thinking about the increasing use of drones and how they create a kind of artificial 'ceiling' in the sky. This can be viewed as both a literal and a psychological 'ceiling'. If we develop a fearful mentality that the sky is a place of threat what happens to the beauty of cosmological perspectives? Regular readers know I have a fascination with cosmology, and the close and far distances it reveals. Threat from the sky is something that limits a fearless desire to look beyond horizons, Earthly ones  as well as universal ones. 

Eyal Weizman, an architect and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, London, writes about the Politics of Verticality  and threats from the sky, in the form of surveillance and air attack. Here's a telling quote These eyes in the sky, completing the network of observation that is woven throughout the ground, finally iron out the folded surface and flatten the terrain. From the air, everything can be watched – if you have the right kind of access.( Weizmann, 2002)

Drone Clouds, like many of my recent paintingswas also partly inspired by reading French Philosopher Gregoire Chamayou's fascinating book Drone Theory. The threat from above, represented by drones controlled and operated by remote pilots, makes the whole world a potential "hunting ground". The rhetoric around the development of autonomous weapons, makes the threat even more alarming. 

I wonder what becomes of landscape if the world is perceived as a "hunting ground"? If perceptions of the sky change, landscape changes, distance loses perspective, horizons become sublime -filled with hope and horror, that is... if they can be glimpsed through hooded eyes. Does the underground offer safety - maybe not? Maybe exodus to other planets is another escape route?

As regular readers know I am interested in untethering notions of landscape from Earth-bound horizons, to embrace the perspectives that cosmology offers. I suggest that these kinds of multiple perspectives of distance provide ways to evaluate humankind's place in the universe, to critique activities such as the militarisation of technology and more. 

In Drone Clouds I play with perspective. Is the viewer below the drones looking up, or are they above the drones looking down? If it is the latter maybe the viewer is an alien watching humankind's dangerous play? Or, maybe humankind has developed another layer of surveillance - good or bad? Or...?


Sunday, October 09, 2016


The Edge Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I don't know about you, but I feel humanity is situated on the edge of the next revolution...a tech revolution. It could be an exciting future. But, then again, it may not be. 

Artificial intelligence is one of main areas of technological development where people are putting efforts into safeguarding benefit to humanity perspectives. The fact that emphasis is placed on benefit to humanity means there is a downside...where developments could be detrimental to humanity. Multi-disciplinary research centres like the Future of Humanity Institute [FHI]at Oxford University, the Center of the Study of Existential Risk [CSER}at Cambridge University and the more loosely formed Future of Life Institute [Boston] [FLI] all have initiatives to conduct research into AI and AGI [artificial general intelligence ie: expansive human-like intelligence rather than task oriented] where benefit to humanity is the key driver. Then there is the recently formed Partnership on AI: to benefit people and society . The partnership is Amazon, Deep Mind, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. 

So, there are a couple of things to think about. One is the importance technology and AI developers are placing on benefit to humanity issues. The downside is acknowledged risk, which whilst small maybe irredeemable. Here, I quote from the CSER website The field of artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly along a range of fronts and while it promises tremendous benefits, a growing body of experts within and outside the field has raised concerns that future developments may represent a major technological risk. With the level of power, autonomy, and generality of AI expected to increase in coming years and decades, forward planning and research to avoid unexpected catastrophic consequences is essential.

Another thing to think about is - money. Beneficial AI will be lucrative for some, hopefully for many. Taking risks that might see the human species incapacitated in some way or worse, potentially annihilated, is not good business! There is a financial benefit in keeping AI beneficial to humans! This, of course, erupts into a whole set of other issues concerning equitable distribution and access, monopoly players, private vs public and more. Then there are questions about how legal frameworks will keep up with the ramifications of AI, AGI, autonomous weapons etc. The law is not noted for being a fast paced institution. Will it be left behind? Will AI replace practitioners and the judiciary? How can those who think about potential legal issues eg: law academics and legislators, keep up?

My painting The Edge 'speaks' to all the issues I've written about...and more. Regular readers will know of my keen interest in the development of lethal autonomous weapons [LAWS]. This kind of development is a specific case of AI being used in ways that could pose major risks. These are not just mortal risks, but also risks that will erode what it means to be human, what it means to live in community, erosion of ideas about society and civilisation. I draw your attention to an Open Letter published on the FLI website Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter form AI and Robotics Researchers

In The Edge I have used the figure of the armed drone. Six of them are half emerged from under something...they appear to be on the edge of emergence, ready and able to seek with their wide area surveillance systems and weapons. The drone is becoming a symbol of 21st century Western power and might, a symbol of a threshold in technological prowess where machines may be equipped with an autonomy that takes us into a scifi future. The symbol of the drone is, of course, a contested one. In parts of the world experiencing the outcomes of drone attacks, the drone is a symbol of inhumanity. 

In the painting, I quite like how the drones seem to be entering an abyss-like place. It seems to fall away from the foreground. It's like the drones have fallen off the edge of a ravine or cliff - rather than emerging from something? Yet, it may not be all bad! Maybe these drones are keeping Earth safe from alien attack? Maybe they are stationed in space? Maybe the 'landscape' is a cosmic one, rather than an Earthly one? The paint has created the 'scape' seemingly on its own. 



Friday, September 30, 2016


Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I imagine a drone spiraling out of control. The cause - unknown - wind gusts, attack, hacking, electrical fault - who knows?

Yes, apparently military drones do crash. Check out this  article in the Washington Post 

But, of course, when they crash there is no crew to get hurt. The remote pilot is safely ensconced in his or her bunker, at home.

There is another thought - the drone as a symbol of civilisation's immanent dance on the edges of existence...? The drone has taken on symbolic tones, representing the cusp of human and non-human control, human controlled and autonomously controlled weapons of war. I imagine my drone in Drone Spiral spiraling in the space between!

Dark thoughts!

Apart from the dark thoughts this painting is another of my droned landscapes, where I attempt to conjure landscape as something untethered from normal concepts of landscape. Taking cosmological perspectives, I try to 'see' landscape in ways that may help address current and looming environmental issues. 

My entry into the $15,000 Redland Art Prize is a finalist! I take it to the gallery next week and later in the week winners are announced. The finalists are listed HERE 

My entry is Where There's Life There's.... I have used binary code, the tree-of-life and landscape, inhabiting a cosmic scape in an ambiguous universe [that's if you thing multi-universes exist!].

Where There's Life There's... Oil on linen 92 x 102 cm 2015


Saturday, September 24, 2016


Camouflage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

As regular readers know, I am currently an M. Phil candidate in the School of Communications and Arts at the University of Queensland. My degree is a research one, thus I spend a lot of time reading and writing. My research topic came out of my own work as an artist and now the research is feeding back into my work. My practice is not part of the degree as it is not a practice lead degree. However, by the time I finish it I will have a large body of work that will reflect the research trajectory. Part of my studies includes research into militarised technology, particularly night vision capabilities and unmanned air vehicles [UAV], commonly called drones. Hence, my predilection for drones in recent paintings.

The initial impetus for my research came from my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies ie: those technologies not yet fully developed or even embarked upon. Whilst risk might be small, the possible outcomes could be cataclysmic. Thus, the risk is worthy of attention. For instance, there is risk in the coupling of AI or AGI with the development of autonomous weapons. Voila! You have a reason for why I am studying militarised technology...

Camouflage is normally associated with military tactics-uniforms, colouration and patterning on vehicles, decoys, undercover work and so on. It is a tactic taken from nature where animals and some plants change in order not to be eaten by predators- think stick insects, for example. In a sense even trying to humanise AI is a kind of camouflage, albeit a tricky and potentially dangerous one. Just think of Ava in the recent movie Ex Machina. By making her human-like normal safety alerts and boundaries became vulnerable to erosion because humans emotionally connected with her.

Ideas of camouflage intersect with my very long interest in the tree-of-life, an age-old transcultural/religious symbol. Its branching appearance is repeated across life, land and the universe in seen and unseen forces and things. For example, think about our vascular system and river networks, think about leaves and ice flows on cold planets. I wonder if the tree holds clues to the template for the universe? Its repeating patterns are far more than mimicry or camouflage. 

I have painted the weaponised drone in Camouflage [above-detail below] the same colours as the two cascading trees-of-life to suggest a warning.  


This painting is another of my dronescapes. They represent a sub-theme of my quest to re-consider what landscape means in the 21 st century. I suggest we need to untether landscape from earth-bound horizons by launching ourselves into universal distances, where we can evaluate Earth and humanity from new and multiple perspectives. The droning of the landscape, where surveillance mechanisms and infrastructure proliferate, is just but one of my considerations. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016


 Aeropolitics Imagined Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

In the last week an article appeared in media outlets. It got my attention. 

The writer is David Wroe and he was reporting about a topic discussed at the recent Land Forces Conference in Adelaide. That topic - drones or unmanned vehicles. These can include land, sea, undersea and air unmanned vehicles. The article also reports on discussion about potential autonomy of these systems. It also reports on Australia's position and fears that if we don't keep up with the technology, we'll be left behind. It's a race - it seems. 

Regular readers will know why I am SO interested in various aspects of this article and the conference. Yes - drones, autonomous weapons, Australian involvement in development and deployment of these systems, the accelerating international interest in unmanned and autonomous systems, how war and conflict are being reframed and so on. I am also interested in the rhetoric and the language used by politicians, systems' developers and the military. 

As an artist and a painter I am interested in the changing landscape - literal and metaphoric. The use of airborne drones changes the way the sky and space are perceived as increasingly political and strategic. Dual-use systems blur the line between civilian benefit and military benefit. Does this mean that landscapes of land and sky hold insidious dichotomies that require vigilance - thus forcing the civilian to take some kind of war-footing preparedness? If surveillance penetrates all movement and terrain, built and natural, where can we hide?

In various books and articles cultural theorist Paul Virilio writes about aeropolitical repercussions of threat from the air. His theories of accelerating technological speed intersect in ways that are, I think, revelatory [if people pay attention]. Professor of spatial and visual cultures, Eyal Weizman writes about the 'verticality of threat' posed by airborne surveillance systems that can assist target and attack. Philosopher Gregoire Chamayou also writes very succinctly about aeropolitical issues associated with the airborne drone in his book Drone Theory. 

What If? Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

The two paintings above express a few of my responses to the plethora of material I have been reading. 

Aeropolitics Imagined plays with images of screen-based surveillance. The wide area surveillance systems used by drones mean that remote operators can focus, in real-time, onto one element of an image. They can then enlarge that particular spot, while keeping all other images and environental context in sight. In Aeropolitics Imagined Australia seems to be the enlarged image, with scoping signals embracing the continent, readying for closer scrutiny and possible attack. However, there are other possibilities. Maybe Australia has deployed a system of surveillance and attack protection similar to Israel's Drone Dome? The white 'signals' emanating from the continent could be deploying defensive positions. Maybe the drone is an Australian one - after all both the continent and the drone are painted red and green - they seem to reflect each other. If it is an Australian drone, what is its target? We are not privy to that information.

In What If? the continent of Australia is divided into sectors. A communications satellite and a GPS satellite hover. Two drones, one departing Australia and one seemingly arriving are silhouetted against the Pacific Ocean. The drone requires connectivity with space-based assets in order to operate, and to send and receive data. Similarly to Aeropolitics Imagined there are multiple possible readings for this painting. This is deliberate - regular readers will not be surprised by this. 

The accelerating pace of drone technology development is both fascinating and somewhat scary. 

Civilian use of airborne drones can be beneficial in times of disaster, for agricultural management, for environmental surveillance and for many other uses.  Drone racing, and other recreational and sporting options are becoming more popular. These all require various regulations, but is legislation keeping up? 

The dual-use nature of the drone, however, means that its use in war and conflict zones, by multiple parties that could include non-military players, creates concerns and anxieties. 

On that 'happy' note....


Saturday, September 10, 2016


Regrowth Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I am very happy to report that my entry Where There's Life There's... is a finalist in the $15,000 Redland Art Award. This award is biennial. You can read more about it and see the list of finalists etc HERE I shall keep you up to date - winner announced 14 October. 

And, at the bottom of this post I have news about the Tattersall's Landscape Art Prize. 


As you can see I am still fixated on the figure of the drone - the drone in the landscape to be more precise. Both Regrowth and Drone Star  depict a drone with emanating signals that create a star-like appearance. These signals are representative of a drone's sensors which receive and transmit data. 

In Regrowth the drone's signals contrast with the emanating branches of the tree-of-life.  This age-old transcultural/religious symbol is the drone's target - for data and perhaps attack. The red box - kill box- around the lone tree indicates that it is a target. Yet, the tree defies the intrusion by sending down new roots. In my mind it acts subversively, but then again, having seen Australian bush regrowth, I know that where and when it can, life re-emerges. 

Drone Star plays with the viewer's sense of orientation. Are you above the drone looking down onto the ground or are you below the drone looking up to a sky. In either case the drone's signals have taken over, hijacked even, the landscape - skyscape. The vibrant colours act as a kind of camouflage sending a message of benign, or even fun, intent. But, is this really the case? 

As regular readers know, I have a delight in playing with perspective and orientation. The drone is giving me ample inspiration in so many ways. 

Here are links to some more of my recent DRONE paintings:

Drone Star Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016


And, here's the news on the Tattersall's $30,000 Landscape Art Prize. The winner was announced on Wednesday last week. AND, congratulations to Ann Thomson for her win with Breakwater. Highly Commended to Melissa Egan and Guy Warren, Commended to Margaret Loy Pula and Members' Choice Award to Michael McWilliams. The exhibition will continue from 12 September to 23 September at the Riverside Centre, 123 Eagle St, Brisbane. 

My entry Privileged Landscape? [below] received some great comments from people at the opening. 

 Privileged Landscape oil on linen 80 x 140 cm 2015

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Target Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Firstly let's start with some great news: 

 1. One of my entries has been selected as a finalist for the $15,000 Redland Art Award . Prizes will be announced on the 14th October and the exhibition continues until 27 November. 

2. My painting Privileged Landscape? is a finalist [by invitation] for the $30,000 Tattersall's Landscape Art Prize.   The prize is announced 7 September. The exhibition will be at the Tattersall's Club 5 - 9 September and then it re-locates to the Riverside Centre 12 - 23 September.

As regular readers know I have been thinking about unmanned air vehicles [UAVs], more commonly called drones. More particularly I am interested in the weaponised drone used for military and counterinsurgency purposes. These are operated by remote pilots. The system of operation relies on a vast amount of technology and connectivity eg: communication satellites, GPS satellites, ground based antenna systems and control stations. The drone, in flight, sits between space-based and ground assets, acting like a conduit or node. You can find more information about the connectivity required to operate a drone here.

But, the aim of the drone, or more precisely, the aim of those who deploy drones, is to target. It seems to me there are basically two types of targeting, one is to target via a drone's various surveillance sensors to gather information and data, the other is to target to kill. Obviously the first kind of targeting is related to the second type. However, as weapons become more autonomous, who or what develops aims for either type of targeting comes under scrutiny. Currently there is debate about the development of lethal autonomous weapons, with arguments that there must be meaningful human control - whatever that might mean. If you are not aware of these discussion a good start is the Future of Life Institute, especially the Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers which is displayed on their website. 

Gregoire Chamayou, in his book Drone Theory (2015) describes the drone as a “projectile-carrying machine” equipped with an “unblinking eye” that enables a “24 hour constant gaze” to undertake its “militarised manhunt”.1  

If you read more about militarised drones you will come across various other very blunt descriptions of them. 

                                      Remote Control Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

So, you might ask, how can Kathryn find inspiration in such a macabre subject? Well, I do! 

I think about the drone with my landscape painter's eyes and mind, creating what I call dronescapes. I think about it in relation to age-old symbols, such as my much loved transcultural/religious tree-of-life. I think about the drone in relation to my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. And, I think about it with my fascination for cosmology driving my attempts to use multiple perspectives to engage with it. Hence, my recent paintings, like the two above, juxtapose the figure of the drone with the tree-of-life, against backgrounds that appear to be cosmic landscapes. The tree, symbolises all life and existence. It also acts as a representation of systems, its branching appearance acting as a template for both human-made and natural ones. 

The armed drone seems to target the tree - my representation of the tree-of-life. Yet, the cosmic landscape indicates, perhaps, that this painting depicts something from another world of time and place. Maybe the tree targets the drone?

Remote Control
I have painted a satellite antenna, a ground-based control station, a communications satellite, a GPS satellite, an armed drone  - and - the target. Its a system and even though the tree-of-life is the target, it represents an alternative system. One of the trees is upside down. Whilst it is a tree, it also has a root-like appearance contained within a white circle. Does it mean new life? Is it a homage to past life? I don't know! What do you think?

1. Chamayou, Gregoire. Drone Theory, trans by Janet Lloyd (Penguin Books: London, 2015) 27, 32, 38.