Wednesday, September 02, 2020


Theatre of War Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020


It has been over a month since I posted. Time flies! It is the longest absence since I started the BLOG in 2006. I have, however, been busy - writing and painting.

This new work Theatre of War was inspired by thinking about Derek Gregory's idea of 'everywhere war'. If war is everywhere, then the whole world is a 'theatre of war'. Everywhere means just that - geographical landscape, cyber and digital worlds, space and everything in-between. It can also mean time. This is possible if you think of everwhere as being about space/place as well as time/history. 

Readers of General Carl von Clauswitz's famous book On War will be aware that he writes consistently about the 'theatre of war'. Written during the early nineteenth century and published posthumously by his wife in 1832, it is clear von Clauswitz's theatre of war differs from twenty-first century ideas of war operation. For von Clauwitz the theatre of war was a defined geographical situation or place. Depending on offensive or defensive actions, landscape and topography played important roles in strategising, preparation and battle.

In the twenty-first century war has morphed beyond earthly geography and topography into discrete spaces of the cyber world, algorithms and light speed signal transmission. It has also extended into space, where orbiting satellites are now drawn into war's network. The network helps to blur the lines between military, policing and security activities. As civilian activities collapse into militarised zones, war insidiously infiltrates everywhere. The signalic character of contemporary war operation allows for escalation or de-escalation, a war of degrees, not of a duration between declaration and end.  

In Theatre of War I have set up a global stage with a sky/space backdrop. The lines painted over the landscape 'speak' to computer geolocating graphics. The real and virtual become one stage. In the distance an array of drones act as both audience and actors. This kind of dual witnessing draws everything onto the everywhere war stage. It is a place where networked systems direct everything and everyone in tragic complicity. With war's duration consumed by the everywhere, a curtain is no longer needed. 

Do not be fooled by what might seem beautiful.   


Our Inside Voices  was recently published in Brisbane, by And Also Books.

Featuring fifty authors, it is an assemblage of reflections about COVID-19. Happy to say I am one of the authors, as is my mother, Elsie Brimblecombe.


Friday, July 31, 2020


Top: Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Middle: Misaligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Bottom: Aligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Aligned or misaligned? 
I have placed these three paintings close together. While they can be viewed separately, I also see them as a triptych, each one visually playing off the other. 

I was thinking of what it means to be aligned or misaligned. With advances in AI, there are discussions and debates about how to align AI with human morals and ethics.* In terms of technology and signal transmission and reception, alignments between nodes is pivotal. In swarming technology wifi enables alignment of formations. There are many ways to think about alignment and misalignment, for example from literal placements in an environment, to philosophical questions about relationships between between means and ends. Alignments of many kinds have impacts on survivability! Then there are old sayings based on superstitions, such as - because the stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things might happen.

Each of the three paintings above reflect some of my thoughts about alignment and misalignment in the age of the drone. Needless to say, they also reflect upon other issues, but alignment is the theme that is common to all three paintings. 

Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment 
In this painting, binary code 'instructing' the word DRONE is repeatedly painted across the paper. Rather than painting actual drones, I decided to represent each drone as an algorithm. This strips away the physicality of the drone, exposing it as an advanced node in a networked and interconnected militarised system. Swarms of drones can act as their own system, creating flying meshes of networked nodes. As the technology advances, if one drone is 'taken out', a swarm will be able to re-calibrate - realign - to continue on a mission. Here, alignment could ensure lethality.

This painting plays with the superstition that when stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things can happen. I have placed stars with nodes that are normally in a drone's operational network. The lines connecting these nodes represent signals. However, these signals are disrupted by the stars, potentially forcing misalignment in the drone's network. Whether this is a good or bad outcome, depends on your point of view. The lone tree. my interpretation of the tree-of-life, stands as a witness.

This painting visually parodies computer graphics that might be seen, for example, on a remote drone pilot's screen. The landscape beyond the graphic-like markings is ambiguous. Is it a sky, is it land-based. Maybe it is a landscape seen through clouds? Is something targeted? Maybe the blue box with a red cross sectioning it, is a kill box? If so, has the target been located, and have friendly forces and civilians been evacuated from the kill zone? Is everything aligned for a surgical strike? What kinds of ethical questions arise? The computer graphic is not neutral.

* Prof Toby Walsh is one of the world's leaders in AI and robotics. He, like others, often speaks about the alignment issue. For example a talk recorded for the Future of Life Institute  


was recently published in Brisbane, by And Also Books. Featuring fifty authors, it is an assemblage of reflections about COVID-19. Happy to say I am one of the authors, as is my mother, Elsie Brimblecombe.


Friday, July 24, 2020


 Crossing the Border watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020 

More watercolour paintings! 
Following on from my last post Watercolours For Our Strange Times: Online Exhibition

As Australia confronts a renewed wave of COVID-19 infections, particularly in the state of Victoria, borders between states have closed again, or not re-opened. For Queenslanders, the recently re-opened border is now closed to visiting Victorians or people from accelerating hotspots in New South Wales. Many Queenslanders want the state's Premier to shut the borders again, completely.

Issues associated with borders and border controls are global and historical - colonial annexations,  migration control, refugee movement, trade, security and pandemic mitigation. Closing or monitoring borders for pandemic and disease control - for example: state, village, home, urban borders/boundaries - are not new strategies. Across history and the globe, from plague to cholera outbreaks, Spanish Flu to Ebola outbreaks, quarantining by border/boundary control has occurred. It is clearly a sensible method of disease transmission mitigation, especially when there is no known cure.

Drones - COVID-19
I am interested in the increased use of surveillance technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular interest is the use of airborne drones for monitoring, crowd control, spraying disinfectant, attempts to gauge temperatures etc. While perhaps laudable in intent, what happens if the use of drones for surveillance and monitoring purposes becomes normalised, and therefore enduring?

Drones Monitoring NSW - Victorian Border
The three watercolour paintings in this post are responses to recent news that police will use airborne drones to monitor the border between Victoria and NSW. This strategy has arisen particularly since the renewed outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria in July 2020. The drones will monitor parts of the border where people could cross undetected, for instance, by swimming across the Murray River. The river forms the majority of the border and presents ample opportunity to cross if someone was determined. You can read about the use of drones to monitor the NSW - Victorian border by police in articles such as these - one in The Australian  newspaper, another in the Sydney Morning Herald, and another in Australian Aviation.

I wonder if airborne drones are being used  by enforcement authorities to monitor other borders in Australia? I assume they are, or at least, being considered. Australia is a vast country with long, often remote, borders between states and territories.

Border as Metaphor
And, of course, the idea of the border as a metaphor is tantalising, particularly so when rivers are borders. Here, I think about the River Styx, in Greek mythology the border between the underworld and the world of the living. I also think about the Rubicon*. The term 'crossing the Rubicon' relates to Julius Caesar's army crossing the Rubicon River in north east Italy in 49BC. This was considered an act of insurrection and treason, and a declaration of war against the Roman Senate. Metaphorically 'crossing the Rubicon', means there is no return. I ask, what kinds of 'no return' metaphoric borders have we crossed in terms of increasing normalisation of drone use for surveillance and targeting purposes? 

Crossing the Border [above] depicts three figures in an ambiguous, but watery, landscape. Are the figures swimming or running? They are clearly in a non-urban environment, and they express a sense of urgency or agitation. Yet, they appear to have not reached their destination. It is as if their bodies link each side of the border - can they return? Here, I am not thinking of a literal return!

 Border Crossing watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020 

In Border Crossing [above] a human figure and the figure of a dog seem ready to cross a border, a watery border. But, maybe they are already half way across a river, the lines extending downwards from their bodies acting as signs of a watery wake. Or are these elongated limbs or shadows tethering them to a shore, keeping them from reaching the other side?

Monitoring the Murray watercolour on paper 32 x 40cm 2020 

In Monitoring the Murray [above] a human figure has merged with the landscape. The figure's outstretched arm, in freestyle movement, indicates it is swimming. However, the figure has become part of the river, a clever camouflage. As the figure reaches the other side of the river, three drones are surveilling. Are the drones from the underworld? 

Previous painting and post Crossing the Rubicon


Sunday, July 12, 2020


[Fig.1] Sentinel Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

This post 'exhibits' some of my recent watercolur paintings. These watercolours are a departure from my normal oil paintings. I like having departures because experimenting with different paint mediums creates a space for thought and innovation.

The paintings in this small online exhibition all respond, in one way or another, to living through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Watercolour Medium
The medium of watercolour provides a softness that is important at a time when people are anxious, in mourning, or even angry and frustrated. I use copious amounts of water, and I cannot help but think that there is something soothing about paintings created with water. Although I obviously also use paint and a brush, the water is essentially the creator - I am the vehicle.

Sentinel [Fig.1] is a landscape where a tree - a tree-of-life - stands like a sentinel on a distant horizon. I was thinking about how life copes with threats and risks. Here, the horizon is both literal and metaphoric - what horizons do we cross when catastrophe knocks at our front doors? 

Maybe one horizon is the increasing use of surveillance and monitoring technology. What limits are crossed when, for example, the pandemic gives rise to an accelerating use of airborne drones? What kinds of creeping normalisation pave way for future impediments to privacy and freedom? 

In Content Tagging: A Spoof  [Fig.2], human [Fig.3] and Shadows [Fig.4] I visually spoof the way machine learning and AI need to be repeatedly exposed to images of objects, expressions and activities, in order to learn to identify them. Words are used to tag. But, I wonder, for an AI, does the tag become the object too? In Content Tagging: A Spoof I have also referenced the story of a person, in lockdown in Malta, who used a drone to walk their dog. My earlier painting Walking the Dog, In the Drone Age was also inspired by Malta story, a story that speaks to how strangeness can morph into normalcy.

[Fig.2] Content Tagging: A Spoof Watercolur on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

[Fig.3] human watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020

[Fig.4] Shadows Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

The three paintings below speak to the effects of isolation during COVID-19. In Watching [Fig.5] two figures are separated by distance, but also by what looks like bars on a window. Lockdown, quarantine and social distancing are mechanisms of isolation, that are monitored in various ways, including the use of drones. That lockdown, quarantine and social distancing are necessary during a pandemic is not disputed. What I query is the way new modes of surveillance, used by security and police forces, collide with those also employed by military forces. In Watching, the drone monitors the figures, as the figures watch each other. Do the figures notice the drone though?

Watching [Fig.5] on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

In People [Fig.6] a line of figures, are socially distanced, except for two figures on the far left. They maybe a couple? The ambiguous atmosphere of the painting reflects the sense of limbo and uncertainty that permeate societies as they grapple with COVID-19. The sense of limbo and uncertainty also permeates Apart and Together [Fig.7]. I was thinking about how all of us are experiencing the pandemic - that all of us are in this thing together. That our individual behaviour and how we adhere to safeguards, can affect other people, is of paramount importance. Staying apart actually helps to keep us together - alive. 

Do stay safe!

 People [Fig.6] on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020

Apart and Together [Fig.7] on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation Oil on linen 36 x 56 cm 2020

As the development and use of airborne drones accelerate, I think about landscape. I think about how landscape is changing, in ways we might not notice.

Creeping normalisation occurs when something happens over a period of time, and thus its impacts accrue slowly. For example, during the COVID-19 there are some concerns about the normalisation of the use of drones and robots for a variety of reasons - surveillance, monitoring, spreading messages, spraying disinfectant, delivering supplies including medicines, and claims that temperature and heart monitoring can be conducted. If these activities are normalised what kinds of intrusion are we accepting now and for the future? 

As time goes on, and military and civilian drone use accelerates, how does landscape change? It changes because invisible signals, used to transmit and receive data and instructions to and from nodes, devices, drones and satellites, infiltrate our environment. While the hardware may be visible, the signals that enable networking, inter-connectivity, operability and interoperability, transmission and reception are invisible. Yet, these signals occupy landscape, as an overlay or net that creates its own 'scape' - a signalscape.  

This 'signalscape' is a sign of a new kind of colonisation of landscape, a stealthy techno-colonisation that disrupts traditional ideas of sovereignty, borders and concepts of Earthly landscape. As invisible signals ricochet from earth-based to sky-based and space-based assets, a volumetric occupation of our extended environment beyond Earth occurs. I often wonder when corridors in this occupied space between Earth and satellites will be commandeered. I often wonder if new titles of ownership will be 'surveyed' in this occupied zone. If commandeering and ownership of the signal-scape occurs, who or what benefits? Will it be individuals, non-state actors, governments, nations, mega corporations and artificial intelligence?

In Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation I have painted four quadcopter drones flying over an ambiguous landscape. The circular lines around each drone indicate the limits of their surveillance and data gathering arcs. These arcs are normally not visible, but here I am trying to demonstrate how signals stealthily occupy landscape. This is an act of imaginational metaveillance - turning human surveillance back onto the machines, without using the digital and cyber platforms the system itself relies upon. 

In Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation the nets of signals create a new kind of scape, one that imposes itself on the landscape below. In the painting this imposed 'scape' seems to be creeping towards a white tree standing on a distant horizon. It does not appear long until the tree will also be netted. This tree, for me, is the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life, a symbol of life and humanity. What happens to humanity when our environment is cloaked with nets of signals that relay data and instructions between nodes and devices, many with increasingly autonomous functionality? What happens to humanity when the networked and interconnected system - the netted signal-scape - operates at speeds beyond human domains of time and space? If this system is something we rely upon, then we need to think about all of its potential vulnerabilities. 

But, have we even noticed that the occupation of landscape may mean we are already held hostage?


Thursday, June 18, 2020


On Our Watch Oil on linen 36 x 56 cm 2020

I've been thinking about our current time of pandemic, protest, political mayhem, global strife and anxiety: I wrote the following, re: protests over historical statues, on Facebook and people seemed to like the idea. 

I've been thinking about the current furore over historical statues of people who are seen as representative of negative aspects of colonialism. Visual art clearly has power. It also offers ways to learn and question, so rather than destroy or discard these historical statues, how about commissioning contemporary artists to create work that responds to them. For example, historical pieces in tight spots could be moved to parks or other open spaces, where some historical statues are already situated, and new contemporary pieces can be placed with them. By doing this the pieces set up a visual dialogue that can inform us of the past, reminding us that the past delivers lessons for the present and the future. These new dialogues could involve historians, futurists & others along with artists. And, not only sculptors or 3D artists, but imagine open-air performances by actors/musicians/poets/dancers that respond to groupings of historical statues and contemporary sculpture/3D works. Imagine light shows, holographic work, or work that encourages audience/viewer participation. I envision a dynamism, that may not be comfortable, but it might potentially mean negative aspects of history help inform critiques and insights of not only the past, but also the present - and potentially - help us pave a positive and sustainable future.
Imagine too, how these kinds of projects would generate work and income for artists of all kinds!

History offers an array of dastardly acts, immoral behaviours, cruel intentions, evil doings, gross discriminations, acts of proprietorial hubris and perverse prejudices. History also offers an array of remarkable achievements, acts of valour and bravery, demonstrations of learning, revelations of science, feats of cultural excellence and intellectual prowess. History offers an array of lessons for a present that can also claim both dastardly acts and commendable behaviours. 

Have we learnt history's lessons? Can we learn history's lessons? How do we learn history's lessons?

While I was painting my new work On Our Watch I was thinking about how contemporary threats to freedoms, futures, lives, environment and well-being are perpetrated and perpetuated. Unfortunately, I 'see' new modes of empire, created by techno-colonising forces.* These new kinds of empire potentially replicate similar biases, prejudices, acts of usury, violence and control that characterised many of the negative aspects of historical empire building. As invisible or hidden signals connect devices and nodes, they volumetrically occupy territory from land to orbiting satellites. New types of territorial and domestic infiltration, colonisation and empire building pose sovereign and individual threats - election manipulations, cyber-attacks, fake news, identity theft, the dark web, surveillance, targeting of all kinds eg: by advertisers, governments or weaponsied drones. 
In On Our Watch I have painted two Sky Guardian drones. The small blue squares mimic pixels, representing the ubiquity of digital technology. I have deliberately chosen the colour blue to suggest a 'take-over' of landscape/territory by virtual and simulated landscape proxies. Fake landscape! The drones are armed with multi-penile-like red missiles, ready and erect for action. I have chosen Sky Guardian drones because in late 2019 it was announced that this drone is the RAAF's preferred acquisition choice. It was chosen over the MQ-9A Reaper drone because it is "able to be certified to fly in civilian airspace". I will leave you to think about that.
Regular readers will identify the red tree as my version of the transcultural/religious tree-of-life. It represents life and humanity. The tree appears to be on fire. Has it been hit by a real or metaphoric missile? Will the tree recover?

I have previously painted 'pixelated' drones - images below. 

ideas of empire. Highly recommended. 

 Anomaly Detection 2 Oil on linen 120 x 180 cm 2017

 Anomaly Detection Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

New Sky? Gouache on paper 57 x 76 cm 2016


Tuesday, June 09, 2020


Swarm Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Drone swarming technology is accelerating, with a number of countries developing swarming capabilities - UK, USA, China, Turkey, Israel, Australia and others.

A drone swarm is a group of multiple drones, also called robotic systems. Swarms of robots can be land, sea or sky based. I am particularly interested in airborne drone swarms.

A drone swarm operates through collective functionality, operating as a unit and enabled by wireless signal connections between the drones. An airborne drone swarm effectively becomes a flying signal-net that enables some autonomous functions by reducing reliance, during a mission, on external signalling. A drone swarm can also become the weapon, deployed as a kamakazi swarm upon target identification. Drone swarming stealth capabilities, reduced vulnerability to electronic warfare [eg: jamming and hacking], autonomous functionality, and resilience to attack [if one drone is ‘taken out’, the swarm re-calibrates and continues on its mission] are attractive capabilities for military forces, and potentially also for security and policing activities. Clearly, this technology would also have appealing applications for state and non-state aberrant actors. 

In many of my paintings I expose signals by painting lines between drones and auxiliary infrastructure, such as ground control stations, other airborne assets and satellites. I also expose signals by painting lines that indicate a drone’s surveillance arc, signals the feed data into the robotic system. This data can assist the drone swarm with functions such geo-locating and target identification, at the same time as building upon existing data to augment functionality.

In Swarm I have painted a swarm of domestic drones and indications of their surveillance arcs. I have chosen domestic drones to alert to the potential militarisation of civilian technologies. That non-state groups, for example, in the Middle East have conscripted and modified civilian drones for nefarious purposes is a great concern. I'll let you extrapolate!

I have painted the drones white. This gives the impression of some kind of fake cloud. I am interested in the way technology occupies landscape. Here, also, the visualising of signals exposes the way normally invisible signals occupy landscape and environment. Without signals the hardware would simply be an object.

Over the last five years I have created a number of paintings that address drone swarming technology. This online exhibition includes seven paintings.

Small Selection of Articles of Interest: 
I recommend you also do your own searching.
Swarming Drones: The Future of Warfare AFR by James Brown September 2019

 Drone Show Oil on linen 122 x 152 cm 2020

 Swarm Surveillance Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Droned Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Drone Spiral 2 oil on linen 120 x 160 2018

Friday, May 29, 2020


Drone Show oil on linen 122 x 152 cm 2020

This painting was sparked by a few thoughts. And, now that it is done, it is sparking a few more thoughts.

I called the painting Drone Show because the weaponise-able drones are in a formation, as if performing. There are three types of drones - Reapers, Predators and X47Cs. It's like a parade of drones! I choose the word parade deliberately, its connection with military parades acting as a provocation.

Perspective and Imaginational Metaveillance
As with many of my paintings, the viewer could be below the drones looking up at a wild cosmic sky, or the viewer could be above the drones, looking down upon a turbulent but beautiful landscape. Once this play with perspective is realised, the viewer can 'fly', in imagination, soaring above, below and around the drones. I love to play with perspective by inviting viewers to 'fly'. It turns a unique human kind of surveillance back onto the drones. I call this an act of 'imaginational metaveillance'. It is uniquely human because it involves imagination - something machine learning and artificial intelligence are not capable of - yet. 

I argue that imagination, or a simulation of imagination, are capabilities no-one should aspire to enable an AI or an AGI with. If this is an aspiration then its more about creating an artificial human rather than an artificial intelligence.   

Light Shows
I also called the painting Drone Show to reference displays of civilian drones programmed to perform mesmerising light shows. These kinds of performances are, for example, great substitutes for fireworks. Although the drones in these performances are pre-programmed they represent a basic form of drone swarming technology. A sophisticated drone swarm will have more autonomous functions - geo-locating, orienting, target identification and so on. While militarised drone swarming technology is still being developed in a number of countries, a drone swarm could, among other things, be armed, be used as a swarm of weapons, act as a surveillance net or scaffold signal transmission to other assets. Suddenly the idea of a 'light show' becomes more ominous.

Aesthetic Seduction
I have painted each of the drones in Drone Show with different colours. I have painted the drones in a pattern, a diamond pattern. This pattern, the colours and the wild beauty of the landscape/skyscape draw the viewer closer. Once close, the drones becomes more apparent. Why are they there? I am using aesthetic seduction to create a shock, to garner attention and to stimulate questions about drone technology. A militarised drone's function stands in sharp contrast to the beauty which is evident in the painting. This is a deliberate means of arresting the viewer's attention. I know many people are critically interested in drone technology, but I have noticed that many others are either in awe or indifferent to it. Both awe and indifference are potentially dangerous. Awe and indifference are risks.

Drone technology - civilian and militarised - needs our attention! 

One of my concerns is that civilian drone technology can potentially be militarised. Militarise-ability, by state or non-state actors is a vulnerability. 

Imagine a 'light show' of civilian drones that have been militarised by malign forces! 

On the not-so-happy note,

Other posts of interest: