Saturday, November 18, 2017


Droned Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

This post is a visual-essay response to discussions about lethal autonomous weapon systems at the UN, and the release of a short film called Slaughterbots

Regular readers will know why I am interested!

Over the last week high level discussions about lethal autonomous weapon systems have occurred at the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva. Various state representatives, individuals and organisations have participated in debates about how to define an autonomous weapon system, and the formulation of regulatory guidelines. There have been discussions about possible bans and moratoriums on research into artificial intelligence for use in lethal autonomous weapons systems. Additionally, debates about weapon operations "beyond meaningful human control" have continued.  

Of particular interest and significance is participation by AI and robotics researchers who are concerned about accelerating developments in autonomous systems capable of being weaponised. These scientists have become an orchestra of concern, with open letters being sent to the Canadian and Australian Prime Ministers, open letters published on the Future of Life Institute  website and more. 

Swarm Clouds Brewing Oil on canvas 36 x 45 cm 2017

Of particular interest to me is a collaboration between scientists, including a world leader in AI and robotics research, Prof Stuart Russell [Berkeley University] and the Future of Life Institute. The collaboration is the production of a film portraying how a future with lethal autonomous weapons may look. The film was released to coincide with the UN debates - it was also shown at the UN. 

The 7 minute film is called Slaughterbots. You can see it, and read more about its background HERE. At the end of the film Prof Russell, whilst not discounting the benefits of AI, warns that lethal autonomous weapons are a real threat. He notes that the technology exists now to take autonomy to the next level, and that urgent action is needed to ensure risks are mitigated. The message is - we need to do something before it is too late to retreat, redeem, fix - before we cross the Rubicon

Crossing the Rubicon Gouache on paper 76 x 56 cm 2017

The Film 
Slaughterbots is about a fictitious company that produces small autonomous airborne drones that work in swarms. The drones are lethal weapons capable of making operative, targeting and attack decisions on their own. They use the same imaging, tracking etc technology that is increasingly incorporated into our mobile phones eg: facial recognition. Device inter-connectivity is presented as a vulnerability in this future.  

The film demonstrates a future where nuance is lost. Binaries such as good and bad, wrong and right, drive a megalomaniac style of power, where being labelled 'bad' can be a death warrant. Where this power resides is worrying - it is channeled by a spokesperson for the fictitious drone making company, a non-state, mega-corporate, hegemonic and essentially lawless entity. The sense of power is driven by the spokesperson's almost evangelical presentation, which mimics the high production promotions made by many 21st century corporations. The celebrity and high entertainment aesthetic of the corporate presentation is seductive...and dangerous. The political and corporate merge, as if collapsed into each other. The 'body politic', with its nuanced layers, seems to no longer exist.

As the film progresses it becomes clear that ubiquitous surveillance, enabled through multiple devices, social media interaction, GPS tracking etc, is conscripted for targeting, and ultimately precision attack purposes. French philosopher and author of Drone Theory Gregoire Chamayou's notions of manhunting are abjectly expressed in Slaughterbots. There is no consideration for normal legal processes of prosecution, defense, trial, and judgement, because the autonomous systems of surveillance, targeting and attack/assassination collapse them. The 'bad' must die - whoever the 'bad' might be! In Slaughterbots the 'bad' guys are student activists. 

Manhunting Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Slaughterbots also demonstrates that lethal autonomous weapons are not restricted to military use. This picks up on current developments in security and policing where drones are increasingly used for surveillance and monitoring purposes. Dr. Ian Shaw [Glasgow University] writes about the implications of this in a number of articles. You can access Shaw's writings HERE.

The increasing dual-use military/civilian nature of contemporary technology is highly problematic in an age where terms like perpetual war and the 'everywhere war' [Gregory] help ensure a perpetual market for the peddlers of militarised technology. 

Sensored oil on linen 50 x 50 cm 2017 

Slaughterbots channels many of the concerns I have tried to express in my paintings over the last two or so years. As regular readers know, these concerns flow from earlier ones about existential risk posed by emerging technologies. However, as a result of research into airborne weaponisable drones, for my recently completed M. Phil [Uni of Queensland], my paintings currently focus on drones, surveillance and increasingly autonomous weapon systems. 

I try not to be illustrative [this is perhaps the trap Slaughterbots falls into], but rather, evocative and provocative - thus, enabling multiple possible 'readings'. Ultimately, I also try to inject some hope. I do this by creating paintings where the viewer is unsure whether they are above or below, beside or in front of the drones, or indications of their presence. By enabling a kind of 'flight', even into cosmic distances, around the drones I attempt to turn the surveillance and the human gaze back onto technology generally, and weaponised technology, specifically. The cosmic view provides perspectives that may trigger new questions. And, these questions may prompt answers never dreamed of. In addition to the cosmic perspective, I often position drones or indications of their presence, with my version of the tree-of-life. It acts as a reminder of both life and hope. 

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

The Tree-of-Life Sends its Energy Underground Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016
Please read an article I wrote about this painting for the Australian Women's Book Review

Landscape and Environment
I couch my concerns within questions about how new 21st century weapons and ubiquitous surveillance mediate and restrict our relationship with landscape and environment. That mediation and restriction are likely outcomes in a future with lethal autonomous weapons systems is illustrated in Slaughterbots where people are advised to stay inside, cover their windows etc. They realise they must alter their behaviour to comply with the prevailing binary of good and bad, where divergence, even seeming divergence, is dangerous - a possible death sentence. 
I argue that not only are we renegotiating how we operate within our environments, but that these environments are also undergoing change. The sky is perhaps the landscape where most change is occurring. The vertical threat from airborne drones, either individual drones or swarms of them, changes the way the sky is viewed. It is, in a sense, colonised. This colonisation, however, goes beyond the materiality of deadly drones. It also includes the invisible signals emitted and received by drones, as well as their support infrastructure, such as communication and GPS satellites. That the sky is often viewed with fear in places such as Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others, should not be ignored. It is an indictment on all of humanity that in an age where the Voyager 1 spacecraft travels in interstellar space, we have people on Earth who afraid of the sky.

 Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape Oil on linen 60 x 110 cm 2017

False Stars, False Clouds - New Landscape Topologies
In my paintings I try to expose the invisible signals emitted and received by technologies designed to surveil, monitor, and perhaps target and attack. I use radiating or criss-crossing lines to disclose new topologies that exist in our landscapes. These radiating lines can also mimic stars and the suns's rays. However, their subterfuge is revealed as a kind of virtual netting, attempting to foreclose perspective.  In a similar way, I suggest that drone swarms, for example, create new types of clouds, false ones. The swarming drones depicted in Slaughterbots occupied the sky, at one instance obscuring it, the next instance, looking like a plague, a cloud of threat, as they plunged with deadly intent into more intimate spaces.

False stars, false clouds - and - false eyes.

Drones do not see - they scope.

I'll stop here, as I have written more than I planned. However, please continue down the page to view a few more of my paintings depicting swarming drones.


The New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

 Swarm Surveillance Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 The Sky is Falling Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016 

 Trees-of-Life Vs The Drones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Rose Tinted Landing oil on canvas 40 x 50 cm 2017

This small painting makes me smile. I think it 'speaks' volumes. 

Civilian/Military - Dual-Use
I've been researching airborne militarised drones for over two years now, and I detect an increasing dilemma between the enthusiasm for the civilian use of drone technology, and the use of drone technology by the military or other security or combatant forces. On the one hand research into drone technology to assist activities such as humanitarian efforts, agriculture, environmental issues, goods delivery, disaster relief and more, are greeted with positive, even exuberant responses. And, rightly so, because the positive outcomes include saving lives, improved time management, economic benefits, and more. On the other hand, weaponisable drone technology that can be used by military or security forces, and/or conscripted by insurgent or criminal entities, presents a future that seems generally less rosy. 

However, for some, developments in militarised drone technology paint a very rosy picture. This is due to outcomes such as increased tactical advantage, political points for not exposing home troops to their possible death in foreign wars, increased reach across land, air and sea domains [even space]. Additionally, proponents of airborne military drones argue that targeting is more precise, even surgical, and thus reduces the likelihood of civilian deaths. These arguments play out in debates around the increasingly autonomous nature of drone technology ie: the use of artificial intelligence in drone operative and decision making activities. Lethal autonomous weapon systems [LAWS], although debated for a few years, are currently gaining more critical attention against accelerating developments in artificial intelligence and drone technology - not just airborne, but also land-based, under sea and on the sea drone technology. 

Lethal Autonomous Weapons LAWS
The debates about LAWS are played out in a number of arenas - and - interestingly many of those who are cautious are scientists, including AI developers and roboticists. In 2015 the Future of Life Institute published Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers and in 2017 An Open letter to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. There are ongoing discussions at the UN about the definition of a lethal autonomous weapon system, and ensuing  policy responses. However, the accelerating nature of AI development places policy development and legal responses, in a race they cannot keep up with. And, a new arms race looms - if it is not already under way. Whilst some people call for a ban on LAWS development, others call for a moratorium, until definitions, protocols, guidelines etc are in place. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is one of the active and informed players in the debate about the development and use of LAWS. Another agitator in the debate is the International Committee for Robot Arms Control [ICRAC]. 

Interestingly, the recent UN Institute for Disarmament Research [UNIDIR] report, The Weaponisation of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies: Concerns, Characteristics and Definitional Approaches [download from UNIDIR Publications] points out that the dual-use nature of technology draws together research for civilian purposes, with research and outcomes of militarised technology. So, advances in drone technology and artificial intelligence for use in civilian situations, are likely to also impact on advances in militarised technologies. The lines between civilian/ military use are increasingly blurred, by corporate involvement in technological research - ie: companies developing, selling and servicing technologies that are utilised or utilisable by the military - or other kinds of security forces.   

Rose Tinted Landing
This painting 'speaks' to the complexity that surrounds dual-use military/civilian technology. On the one hand in civilian situations the positive outcomes of drone technology, coupled with autonomous systems such as identification, pattern recognition, anomaly detection and so on, is exciting. Yet, these same capabilities in a militarised or weaponised situation take on more dire possibilities. Conversely though, these capabilities are seen as highly desirable by those who seek tactical advantage and domain dominance. Additionally, the data gathered by civilian use drone technology ie: mapping, animal and human behaviour, etc, is potentially accessible by other entities - I'll let you think about what entities! 

Rose Tinted Landing questions how we human beings embrace technology - the pink drone, seemingly landing on a pink tarmac, demonstrates that technology, with its 21st century characteristics of accelerating complexity and fluidity, has landed on our collective consciousness. Are we metaphorically seeing contemporary technology through rose-tinted eyes/glasses - as the old saying goes? Or, is the painting pointing out that there is no such thing as a rose tinted future - it is all a ruse, a virtual reality, a subterfuge...?

Rose Tinted Landing is another dronescape, but it is also a cosmic landscape. It is part of an underlying quest of mine, to rethink notions of landscape in an era where technology's invisible signals mediate how we operate in our environments and respond to landscape. 

And, on that note, I will leave it to you to think more about - everything!

Other Drone Landing paintings are:


Saturday, November 04, 2017


21st Century Cloud Fantasy Oil on canvas 67 76 cm 2017

Regular readers will know that 21st Century Cloud Fantasy relates to contemporary surveillance in the broadest sense - visual surveillance, data collection and mining, online behaviour monitoring, physical tracking and so on. It also relates to the way I attempt to turn the surveillance back upon itself, by placing the viewer in multiple orientations, even simultaneously. Like with many of my paintings over the years, 21st Century Cloud Fantasy takes a cosmic perspective which has the ability to oscillate at multiple close and far distances. Cosmology, the scientific study of the universe across all spatial and temporal scales, informs my visual oscillation. 

For example, are you looking down, as if gazing at something microscopically, but enlarged by some kind of vision device. Or, are you looking up into an endless sky? Or, are you Voyager 1 with its camera turned back towards Earth - like it did in February 1990 as it left the solar system - one last photo Pale Blue Dot before its camera was turned off, and it embarked on its continuing interstellar journey. Are you being propelled away from the pale blue dot, or are you falling towards it?

But, I was thinking of more! 

Clouds have featured a fair bit in my recent paintings. But, whilst they look like atmospheric clouds, I am playing with the idea of The Cloud ie: multiple servers designed to store computer generated information and data in ways where it is retrievable by possibly an array of systems or people. Is anything secure? 

There were so many thoughts going through my head when I painted 21st Century Cloud Fantasy. The choice of colours is deliberate, the targeting appearance is also, as is the positioning of radiating lines with the fluffiness of the clouds. I'll let you think about the painting. However, you might like to read some of my previous posts, where I position militarised systems, like airborne drones - with clouds!

Oh - and - yes, this painting is also a continuation of my attempt to renegotiate what landscape means in the 21st century. A century where the real and the virtual collide - and - where at the same time as humanity has succeeded in sending human-made technology into interstellar space, we also have people in conflict zones who are afraid of the sky - a droned sky. 


Sunday, October 29, 2017


Launching The New Horizon Oil on canvas 60 x 92 cm 2017



Delighted to report that my painting Drone Spiral [below] won the Drone Art Prize at the inaugural World of Drones Congress held in Brisbane, August/September this year. The press release announcing the prize can be viewed HERE or by clicking "Press Release" on the World of drones website.

Dr. Catherine Ball, scientist, and drone entrepreneur commented

“Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox’s work provided a visual interpretation of the juxtaposition between the drone technology we see most in mainstream media, and its inherently complicated relationship with human beings."

Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm [unframed] 2016


Also, my latest e-Studio Update with a recap of 2017 is available HERE

Launching The New Horizon

Launching The New Horizon [at top of page] continues my interest in how contemporary technologies re-calibrating landscape and our responses to it. As regular readers know I am particularly interested in airborne militarised drones, surveillance and targeting signals associated with ubiquitous surveillance, and increasingly autonomous systems. 

In this painting a weaponised drone's wing-span creates a new horizon line. Long range, long dwell and long endurance capabilities of militarised drones enable a kind of loitering that could be described as an occupation of the sky. Weaponised drones don't simply travel through or across a sky like a fighter jet. That drone swarm technology has hastened over the last couple of years, poses another way for skies to be occupied or colonised - an infiltration of 'new clouds'. As instruments of surveillance, targeting and destruction militarised drones are embedded in the environment in ways that re-orient how we might look at and think about the sky. This is fearfully experienced by people who live in conflict zones situated under droned skies eg: Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and others. 

In Launching The New Horizon the drone's surveillance net is visible. I've painted it to appear porous to indicate that it may have other meanings. For example could this net, be a span of light illuminating a landing strip? Or, as a visual metaphor, maybe it indicates a landing on our subconscious? Or, maybe the drone presages the arrival of an event horizon, one where humans and machines merge in a singularity, or one where we arrive on the precipice between life and extinction? The latter refers to the event horizon as the zone around a black hole from which there is no escape. The cosmic background of the painting is - very deliberate.

I'll let you continue to ponder. 

P.S. You might like to read Drone: Enduring Presence [Meta Landing]

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape Oil on linen 60 x 110 cm 2017

Ideas visualised in Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape are also evident in some of my other recent paintings. These ideas are formed around reflections upon the way pervasive and increasingly ubiquitous surveillance, monitoring and data collection, creates invisible layers across, around and through landscapes and skies. In doing so, I suggest that new landscapes, landscape forms and skies are created. However, they are invisible. I try to expose them by revealing the signals, signal and scopic trajectories, of contemporary surveillance technology. I try to convey the criss-cross nature of digital and cyber systems' inter-connectivity. In some of my paintings I reveal the connective reliance on satellites, creating spider web-like - but invisible - patterns that extend beyond Earth's atmosphere into space.

In Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape I have suggested a new layer of the sky, yet it could be a new topology of the land as well. As with many of my paintings the viewer is not sure whether they are above the clouds looking down or below the clouds, looking up. The new landscape of signals and scopic trajectories suddenly becomes an amorphous entity capable of palpitating in multiple dimensions. Like a shadow, the viewer cannot escape it. No matter where you are the surveillance follows or perhaps catches you in its virtual web.   

Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape could also indicate the presence of two airborne militarised drones, each emitting signals the send and receive data. The drones are not portrayed, but they could be loitering beyond the painting's edge, beyond the horizon. Perhaps the green signals are surveillance signals scooping up information, images, people's lives? Perhaps the red signals are seeking targets...?

Because I grew up on a grain farm, I am well aware of various kinds of fences. Weld mesh is a type of barrier fencing made from steel wire. It normally presents in sheets of squares or rectangles. It is very strong fencing. In Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape the lines create a weld mesh-like appearance. Whilst invisible, the pervasive and increasingly ubiquitous nature of surveillance, monitoring and data collection creates a strength. Robustness in systems can be a good thing - but - if it acts as a way to contain, then perhaps it is not such a good thing!


Saturday, October 14, 2017


Persistent Situational Awareness Oil on linen 100 x 70 cm 2017

'Persistent situational awareness' is a term used by the military for devices that enable integrated, real-time spatial and temporal awareness of an environment. The environment can be multifaceted ie: from the cyber 'environment', to the physical battlefield and broader locales. The word 'persistent' indicates that the situational awareness persists- unabated. It is clearly associated with capabilities that ensure persistent surveillance. 

One of the important capabilities of militarised unmanned air vehicles [UAV], commonly called drones, is the technology that enables 'persistent situational awareness'. Technology includes sensor and data connectivity with various systems on the aircraft, and inter-connectivity with support infrastructure, including, but not limited to, ground control stations and satellites. The fact that drones are capable of long range, long endurance operations requires capabilities of persistent situational awareness. 

With my new painting Persistent Situational Awareness I have played with ideas of environment and surveillance. 

Maybe the green ball is a planet emitting signals that transmit and collect data that assists in the planet's 'persistent situational awareness', placing it in a position of tactical and attack readiness. In a sense a militarised planet - maybe Earth, maybe not...

Or, maybe my 'landscape' is actually a close-up image of an eye, with the green ball representing a pupil. The blue could be a section of the iris, and the red could be the lip of the lower eye-lid. The clouds could be pterygiums-like, ie; benign growths on the eye, semi-obscuring vision! Now, that's an interesting metaphor. Or the clouds could, in fact, be clouds reflected on the eye as it incessantly gazes, gathering and transmitting data and instructions. Reality, glimpsed in reflection....

If it is an eye, then it is obviously not a normal eye... 

I am also playing with the idea of the airborne drone being colloquially called an 'eye-in-the-sky'. The green-eye/pupil indicating the drone's night vision capabilities - perhaps the red, indicating its thermal imaging capabilities, or any number of other bloody things. The idea of the 'green-eyed monster' plays into my thoughts - a term coined by Shakespeare in Othello [Act 3: Scene 3] it apparently refers to a cat toying with its prey, before devouring it. Iago to Othello says:

Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. 

The idea that a green-eyed monster mocks death, feeding upon its victims, is a salient one to ponder as the weapons for contemporary battles become more asymmetrically, insidiously and persistently deployed and 'aware'. 

Persistent Situational Awareness intersects with my interest in creating images that can be interpreted as something vast, and at the next instance, as something small. An oscillating dance between the micro and the macro is a theme which runs through my work. 

At the end of the day, Persistent Situational Awareness is a landscape, but I propose it offers a renegotiated idea of what landscape might mean in the 21st century.


Sunday, October 08, 2017


Tactics oil on linen 70 x 100 cm 2017

I wrote another post called Tactics very recently. You can access it HERE  . 

Tactics, above, is the same painting I previously discussed. However, a few weeks ago I decided to add clouds. The white clouds give more clues to the drone's tactics of camouflage and subterfuge. They alert us to a 'droning' of the sky, where new layers are artificially created by pervasive technology, its apparatus and signals. Indeed, the white drone seemingly attempts to mimic a cloud! 

But, strategic tactics are not only evidenced in the actions and appearance of the drone!

The red cloud 'cries'. It cries tears of blood. But, like the 'tactics' of the tree-of-life as it sends roots and new shoots underground, the cloud's tears might also be a way to preserve life. By shedding tears of blood, LIFE can seep into the universal matrix, for resurrection at some other time or place.  

Detail Tactics 

Here is an extract from my previous post Tactics:

"The airborne weaponised drone is targeting the tree-of-life. The tree is isolated in a 'kill box', a virtual three dimensional graphic that delineates a zone around an identified target. Emanating rays above the tree-of-life indicate ongoing surveillance by another drone or maybe a control base of some kind. Whatever it is, the signals represent persistent surveillance by manned and unmanned entities. At the end of each white signal-ray, a small red box indicates potential further targeting.


The tree-of-life has sent its roots under the 'kill box'. A survival tactic subverting the digital reach! The tree's roots seek out places that a drone cannot penetrate - maybe literal subterranean places, but maybe spiritual realms? The tree succeeds in sending out new green shoots, to bring forth life. BUT, it may not represent human life - and - it may not be on this planet - or - even in the universe! This may sound loopy, but I am thinking of theories about multiverses, and I am also thinking about a future where humanity/life may have left planet Earth. Indeed, we humans are already planning settlements on Mars. But, Mars is still in our solar system. What about humanity/life in other solar systems, even galaxies? An extreme escape!"


Saturday, September 30, 2017


Pale Blue Dot AKA: Earth Oil on canvas 90 x 100 cm 2017

Carl Sagan's description of Earth as a 'pale blue dot' was coined after seeing the photograph Voyager 1 took as it left the solar system, February 1990. On Sagan's suggestion the spacecraft's camera was turned back towards Earth. The image of Earth, identifiable as a pale blue dot, set among a myriad of other celestial entities had, and still has, a profound affect on people. The colour blue indicates an environment that can sustain life. Voyager 1's camera was turned off not long after the famous image was taken, to enable scientists to re-purpose computers. Sagan wrote a book called Pale Blue Dot in 1994. Voyager 1 is still travelling in interstellar space. Please visit this NASA website for more information.  

In Pale Blue Dot: AKA Earth I have played with a scoping type perspective. It feels like Voyager 1 is falling back to Earth, maybe? Or, perhaps that we have been catapulted at speed away from Earth. The red flames around the pale blue dot, could represent the increasingly volatile nature of Earth's existence. They could also indicate some kind of renewal?

Regular readers will identify my play with a surveillance-like perspective, mimicking but also extending that of a militarised drone, a recurrent figure in some of my other recent paintings. Clearly, you and I, are well above or beyond the current reach of drones. Our 'surveillance' is far more sophisticated - it embraces imagination! The cosmic perspective 'reveals' the fiery threat-potential around Earth. Cosmologists, such as Lord Martin Rees suggest, that like at no other time in human history, the decisions we make now will affect whether life on Earth continues into the next centuries. A cosmic perspective reveals the kind of metaphoric precipice we now hover upon.

P.S. Please read another recent post Anomaly Detection with more paintings that represent the 'pale blue dot'