Anomaly Detection Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017
The term anomaly detection is a technical one. It is an automatic system for detecting unusual behaviour, patterns or occurrences in, for example, live or stored data, such as film footage. Anomaly detection can allow preemptive actions. Regarding military drones the identification of anomalous behaviour, for example multiple vehicles moving at speed from different directions towards one destination, can trigger an alert for increased surveillance and readiness for potential attack. A drone's wide area surveillance capabilities mean expansive areas can be surveilled, and sophisticated detection and recognition algorithms are employed as another layer of surveillance monitoring. In civilian arenas anomaly detection systems are useful for a variety of monitoring requirements that range from security to environmental protections and more.
In Anomaly Detection I have turned drone surveillance on its head. Here, I have painted the drones as if pixelated, as if a detection and recognition algorithm has detected the anomalous behaviour of three armed drones converging on the tree-of-life hovering at the center of the image. The viewer of the painting could be monitoring the drones from the ground, looking up - or - from the sky/space looking down. In this way the viewer becomes aware of the power of perspective, even in imagination.
Cosmic perspectives implore us to seek distance, both close and far, as a way to examine ourselves and the planet. From vast distances it becomes obvious that planet Earth, despite discoveries of possible habitable exo-planets, is our only home for the foreseeable [and beyond] future. We need to look after the planet and ourselves. By exploring perspective and engaging with multiple perspectives maybe we'll discover more anomalies that highlight risk in ways that trigger precautionary, preemptive, restorative and pro-actionary activities?
I am really pleased with this painting - I actually think it is quite beautiful - in a way that achingly screams for the tree-of-life's survival in the face of potential destruction.
I am very excited about the interview the Center for the Study of the Drone conducted with me. The Centre is
“an interdisciplinary research institution that examines the novel and complex
opportunities and challenges presented by unmanned systems technologies in both
the military and civilian sphere”.
BODY OF WORK
Top: Through the Mists of Time Alternative Ways of Being
Middle: Between Existences Persistent Surveillance and Strike
Bottom: Swarm Surveillance Across Time and Space
Not all my recent paintings feature the figure of the drone. However, some feature a drone's surveillance features, such as signals. Others feature the tree-of-life in cosmic landscapes. Whilst individual paintings can stand alone, a body of work gives space for paintings to play off each other. By playing off each other certain aspects of imagery take on 'loaded' meanings that may not be otherwise evident.
It is often interesting to look at much earlier work to place it with recent work. I don't know about you, but with the figure of the drone and its capabilities in mind the paintings below take on an urgent reminder of our need to look after ourselves and the planet.
I am also thrilled that a research centre such as the Centre for the Study of
the Drone believes my work has something meaningful to contribute to current
debates and conversations about drone technology.
The patches of red in Diorama - The Future? can indicate a few things - blood lost, life's fertility, energy lost, or maybe energy dispersed for later retrieval. These red patches act as landscape elements too, albeit possibly cosmic landscape ones. They could be mineral deposits, contour indicators, pools of energy, multiple glimpses of sunsets, bomb blasts on distant and close horizons....
The oscillation between positive and negative interpretations is deliberate. It reflects the ambiguity of orientation in the painting. Is the viewer above the landscape or are they looking down upon a landscape, or are they in front of one or maybe behind? This sense of flying around the landscape, and importantly the Reaper drone, forecloses any priority that might be given to the drone's so called 'vision'.
The viewer's orientation is disturbed by the upright and upside-down trees-of-life, the two white ones and the row of yellow ones. The white trees act as illuminating beacons. But, the drone is also white? Ah ha! Its failed attempt to camouflage itself is revealed! The emanating rays that appear on the top left look like the rays of a sun - but - they could be the scoping signals of a drone. They contrast with the upside down white tree with its emanating branches that reveal a more complex array of networks and systems than those signaled by the emanating drone rays. Again, perhaps an attempt to camouflage a drone's intrusive surveillance and possible targeting capabilities is revealed.
EYE IN THE SKY
By playing with orientation and ambiguous perspective the viewer becomes the 'eye in the sky' even if its in your mind's eye - imagination. Given the title of the painting Diorama - The Future? maybe the viewer is transported to the future - in imagination? Given that developments in militarised technology, such as increasingly autonomous systems, are already focused on perceived future of war needs, thinking critically about how the future might unfold is important. In some ways it is already militarised and in some minds so is imagination!
Rather than the word 'vision' to describe a drone's surveillance and targeting capabilities, I prefer the word 'scoping'. This removes the questionable habit we humans have of anthropomorphising non-human and non-living things. Scoping is a more technical term- related to targeting and surveillance. Vision, however, implies a lot more that we humans need to retain for ourselves, particularly imagination - our mind's eye!
Secrets Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017
Upright and upside down trees-of-life - roots - multiple mini landscapes - emanating pink rays - glistening stars or are they galaxies? - skies - clouds - landforms - the cosmos - and ---- secrets!
If you are new to my blog you are likely to 'read' this painting quite differently to those who visit often - initially anyway.
NO DRONES - MAYBE?
For those who do visit often they will notice the absence of airborne weaponised drones. They will, however, think twice about the emanating rays in the distance. Are they signs of hidden drones loitering beyond sight, their long range and long dwell capabilities enabling persistent surveillance? Or, are they evidence of suns in the far distant reaches of the universe? Regular visitors might also notice how these rays contrast with the pale green roots, and the upright and upside-down trees.
New and regular visitors will notice an ambiguous perspective - are you above, below, inside, outside, in front of a landscape? Is it a 'scape' of the land or of the sky? Maybe, it's a 'scape' revealing multi-universes?
I called the painting Secrets for a few reasons. One is to remind us that keeping secrets in the cyber and digital age of the 21st century is very difficult! Whether secrets are revealed now or at some time in the future is largely out of our hands. Algorithms will trawl through data and come up with correlations that 'reveal' biases, likes, dislikes, habits etc whether we like it or not!
But, a painting with upside down trees, an ambiguous perspective, emanating pink rays, pale dots, green roots and an overwhelming sense of beauty keeps its secrets by being enchanting, even beguiling. Whatever secrets it might hold, they are there forever - so I am told!
A BODY OF WORK
Once an artist has a body of work it is exciting to see relationships between works, even over decades. A body of work is a dynamic entity made up of equally dynamic parts. Yes, individual pieces can be appreciated separately, but connections between works can sometimes reveal - secrets!
Cradle Gouache and Watercolour on Paper 56 x 76 cm 2017
As I sit here in my office in sweltering heat I ponder the state of the planet. Here in Brisbane we have experienced days of drastic heat - one after the other. All over Australia people are sweltering under record high temperatures. The odd hot day or two is bearable, but day after day of heat + humidity is debilitating. The relentlessness of the heat is significant, because to me at least, it demonstrates change in weather patterns. I grew up in Western Queensland, Australia. Then as an adult I spent 18 year further west, before moving to Brisbane 16 years ago. Yes, it got hot out west, but I don't remember weeks of relentless heat - like we are experiencing now. I noticed it last year too, but had not previously noticed it
So, are we humans like a frogs put in water that is slowly brought to boiling point - but the frogs do not notice they are being cooked?! Maybe?
In the 60s and 70s when I was at primary school we learnt about pollution; air, water, soil, land etc. Yet, here we are a few decades later still talking about the effects of pollution - humanmade pollution! Even if humankind's pollution is ultimately not a major contributor to climate change/global warming it cannot be helping! Even if it is a minor contributor, what if it is the thing that causes the balance to tip - the last ingredient - AND - so something that demands to be addressed - by all of us? Arguing about addressing human generated pollution seems pointless because one way or another it is a major problem.
Added to environmental turmoil the world is also experiencing other kinds of turmoil - economic, political, social and cultural. My guess is that they are all connected.
So, I painted Cradle with humanity and the tree-of-life linked in a vast landscape as a way to envision Earth - our planet - our home. After all, it is ACTUALLY our 'cradle' as it nurtures us in every way. Let's look after it and each other....
My painting Red Rain is featured on the front cover of HECATE. Hecate is a journal that prints material relating to women. It is is an internationally circulated refereed journal. It is published twice a year by Hecate Press, in association with the Research Group for Women, Gender, Culture and Social Change Research, in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. My painting What I Think About When Planking is featuring in printed and online material for the international conference Excess Desire and Twentieth to Twenty-First Century Women's Writing
1. I have made a designated DRONESCAPESpage here on my blog. There are 18 of my dronescape - cosmic landscape paintings.
2. My painting Red Rain is featured on the front cover of HECATE. Hecate is a journal that prints material relating to women. It is is an internationally circulated refereed journal. It is published twice a year by Hecate Press, in association with the Research Group for Women, Gender, Culture and Social Change Research, in the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. 3. My painting What I Think About When Planking is featuring in printed and online material for the international conference Excess Desire and Twentieth to Twenty-First Century Women's Writing
I first came across the term "manhunt" in regards to airborne drone surveillance and targeting in French philosopher Gregoire Chamayou's book Drone Theory. He makes the startling and horrific claim that in the age of the drone the whole world is potentially a manhunting ground.(Chamayou: 38, 52-53) And, let's not forget that in some parts of the world 'manhunts' conducted from the air already occur. In many cases targeting is based on patterns of behaviour or data collected from devices such as mobile phones, GPS and so on. In these cases a target may not even have a name - this is called a 'signature strike' rather than a 'personality strike'. (this information is available in numerous places including newspaper article as well as books like Chamayou's Drone Theory)
I have come across the idea of manhunt/manhunting in other articles and books a number of times since reading Drone Theory. The threat from above informs architect Eyal Weizman's theory of the verticality of threat and international relations academic Alex Danchev's provocatively titled article Bug Splat: The Art of the Drone . Media studies academic Mark Andrejevic writes about the ubiquity of targeting surveillance in a number of articles and essays. And, there are others.
Manhunting and Combat Proven, Long Range, Long Dwell
I painted Manhunting after reading Shaw's two articles and I painted Combat Proven, Long Range, Long Dwell before reading the articles. Shaw's ideas about the reduction of some populations to a "surplus" category where data often acts as a proxy for the human really resonated with me.
Both paintings depict life and humanity in painted binary code. How? In Manhunting I have painted Human in binary code at the bottom of the painting, over and over. This represents a population under surveillance, potentially targeted.
In Combat Proven, Long Range, Long DwellI have painted the word LIFE in binary code at the bottom of the painting. And, the word DRONE is painted in binary code on the Gray Eagle drone.
In both paintings 'signals' emanate from the drone, a Reaper drone in Manhunting. They are simultaneously surveillance and targeting signals, on the one hand 'sucking' in our data and on the other hand perhaps lasers pinpointing targets? Both the Gray Eagle drone and Reaper drone are armed with missiles. They are ready to attack. The targets below the drones are strings of binary code acting as proxies for humanity and life. There are no names, just code...data contained in the reductive 'space' between zeros and ones.
I have deliberately painted the binary code in attractive colours to make the strings of code look like ribbons, to inject personality, to stir the pot so-to-speak. Hand painting the code also means the zeros and ones are not perfect. Can code really represent life and humanity in all the foibles and amazing attributes that come with flesh, blood, emotions, spirit, creativity...?
In Combat Proven, Long Range, Long Dwell I have also included trees-of-life to act as beacons to guide us. In Manhunting there is no tree. But, I look at the empty space on the far right of the strings of binary code in two ways. One is that human life completely ceases and autonomous artificial life systems rule the world! The other is that life covertly goes underground, ready and waiting for regrowth some time in the future.
Through the Mists of Time Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 75.5 cm 2017
As regular readers know, my recent paintings have been influenced by my M. Phil research into contemporary militarised technology. Recent work has featured the figure of the unmanned air vehicle, commonly called the drone, often in juxtaposition with my interpretation of the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol.
This new painting Through the Mists of Time does not feature a drone. Rather, it focuses on humanity - unplugged from all cyber and digital technologies.
A result of my research focusing on contemporary militarised technology is a counter balancing re-focus on questions associated with what it means to be human in the 21st century. That's why the tree-of-life figures so strongly in my work, with or without drones! The tree, as an age-old transcultural/religious symbol 'speaks' of all life and its systems.
In Through the Mists of Time I wanted to place humanity, as represented by the male and female figures, in a cosmic seemingly timeless landscape. The figures seem to 'cast' a tree-of-life shadow, or new root system, at the same time as they project a tree-of-life into the sky - the endless future. A 'stream' of leaves gives the impression of time passing, the white oval shape alludes to renewal and birth, while the small round tree hovers like a fire fly, ready to illuminate, play, guide, tease. Small dots make up various parts of the painting - are they stars, new universes, energy particles, past and future histories?
I am interested in investigating human agency in an age where unseen algorithms influence so much of our lives. I suggest that in an age of increasing automation, and developments in robotics and artificial intelligence, questions about human agency are important.
I was a fare way into completing this painting - and it did take some time - when I decided to re-read some of my Mother's and Grandmother's poems in their joint anthology Out There (1986). Well, one of my Mother's poems 'sang' to my new painting. In fact, I took its title from a line of my Mother's poem. The poem is:
by Elsie Brimblecombe
Published in Out There by D. E Ross [my grandmother] and Elsie Brimblecombe, Elise Publishing, Dalby, 1986.
If I squeeze the golden fruits
Of time, and suck the juice
Till from the leathered skins
The pith and core and rind
The seed beyond the centre
Of that fruit will score
Their mark and drop
Beyond the pearly orchard gates
There is this land crossed by days
And falling within the season's drop
Those fruits will bear
Upon the hour, the stop
And go of earth's frantic measure
But if I could graft the trees
Of time and from that union
Spring a growing season
Rooted in the current flow
I would grow and tree of life
A tree whose branches spread
Beyond our lives and those gone by
A tree which blossomed
Through the mists of time
And set its fruits to ripen
In the thinking of the wise.
Please check out recent and older posts for more on my work figuring the drone, the tree-of-life and cosmic landscapes.