Saturday, July 14, 2018


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

The Cloud is a term used for the storage of data on remote servers housed in bricks and mortar buildings. The data is delivered and accessed via the internet. The Cloud is not a vapourous fantastical storage system. Rather, it consists of physical structures that have enormous energy needs to power servers and to keep ambient environments cool enough for their maximal operation. In his 2015 book A Prehistory of the Cloud Tung-Hui Hu describes The Cloud as a 'cultural fantasy'. (1) He also notes that cloud computing is a 'way of turning millions of computers and networks into a single, extremely abstract idea: “the cloud.”'(2)  Hu argues that The Cloud builds on older ways to wield power, and therefore militarising precedents are inherent in systems now dominated by speed and ubiquitous inter-connectivity. I highly recommend Hu's book to you.

The 'take-out' here is inter-connectivity, deployed through physical cabling, or wireless transmission ie: signals travelling via subterranean,undersea and sometimes above ground conduits, as well as via radio frequencies/waves on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Regular readers will know of my interest in revealing signals that ricochet around the world, between nodes positioned on land, in the sky and in space. I 'see' these signals as occupiers, even colonisers, of a volumetric environment extending from Earth, into the biosphere and beyond to geostationary and low Earth orbit.* In this way signals create new netted and potentially dense topographies across and in the landscape. I am particularly interested in how the increasingly dual-use nature of interconnected digital and cyber systems predisposes landscape, new and old, to processes of militarisation.

One aspect of this militarisation is that interconnected systems allow for a constant state of readiness for offensive and defensive activities, in other words, readiness for war. Things like the manipulation of elections, cyber attacks and the generation of fake news could be considered characteristics of 21st century war - maybe not outright war - but certainly barbed provocations. If we live in an era of ever-readiness for war, does that make us hostages? Do cultural fantasies obscure grim realities? These topics are for another post.

1. Tung Hui-Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud ,Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2015, XXIV.
2. Ibid., XXVI.

* I have written about the occupation of landscape by signals quite a lot. Here is a link toe a recent post Occupied Landscape: Everywhere

**I thank Dr. Christine Agius, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia for stimulating my thoughts about how my work might reveal invisible aspects of an ever-present readiness for war. Hopefully, we will be building on the topic in the future - shall keep you posted!

 Fake Tree Oil on linen 25 x 35 cm 2017

The paintings I have included in this post each 'speak' to aspects of ever-readiness for war. 21st Century Cloud Fantasy [top] positions the pale blue dot, aka Earth, a the center of radiating lines and funneling night vision green clouds. Here, I am playing with ideas of ubiquitous surveillance...and more. In Fake Tree the tree's shadow is not real, and binary code 'instructing' FAKE TREE forms a fake horizon. Cloud Storage plays on the fantasy of digital vapour! And, Persistent Situational Awareness draws attention to always being aware of where you are, especially in tumultuous times, especially if you are a hostage.

 Cloud Storage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Persistent Situational Awareness Oil on linen 100 x 70 cm 2017


Thursday, July 05, 2018


Drone Life: Shadow Play Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Regular readers will know of my interest in risk, particularly existential risk posed by emerging technologies. I attended the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, (CSER) University of Cambridge, annual conference in April this year and heard many interesting speakers. I've read numerous articles and books about the topic. This week, on Monday, I attended a AI and Security masterclass hosted Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra, Australia. Again an array of highly regarded, informed and interesting speakers. While they did not directly speak to ideas of existential risk, risk identification and mitigation were overriding themes.

Regular readers also know that I have a particular interest in airborne militarised drones, persistent surveillance, and debates around increasingly autonomous weapon systems. Risks are obvious, through mal-intent, mistake, unintended consequences and other misadventure. These risks can be driven by state and non state actors, groups and individuals.

But, apart from the obvious risks associated with the technology, are there other nuanced or silent contributors that might make risk more probable. Here, I am thinking of an approach Karin Kuhlemann (University College, London) talked about at the CSER conference at Cambridge. She spoke about "creeping normalcy" as well as complexity and conceit.

I propose that our human tendency to anthropomorphise technology, its capacities and/or materiality expose us to risk. Here, I focus on a tendency, a 'creeping normalcy', to anthropomorphise the airborne unmanned militarised/weaponisable drone, and it various capabilities. Gregoire Chamayou in Drone Theory wrote “Drones have not only eyes, but also ears and many other organs”. (1) A drone's imaging technology is often referred to as 'drone vision'. But, 'vision', as Lauren Wilcox reminds us is, "always embodied and tied to other ways of knowing and creating the world". (2) So does using the word 'vision' for a drone's imaging technology set us on a relational course with the drone that may be reductive, one sided, fake? If so, what kind of knowings and creations ensue? Is this where the risk that exposes us to threat lies? Chamayou also notes that the drone is an "unblinking eye", and here he observes a reductive, rather than augmentative, outcome. (3) For me it indicates a fake eye, and places a question mark over the veracity of a drone also having "ears", and "other organs".  

Cloud Eyes Oil on canvas 40 x 40 cm 2017

I have previously written about my issues with using the word 'vision' to describe a drone's imaging technology. 'Vision' is far more than just seeing with an eyeball and pupil, it also denotes our mind's eye, dreams, imagination and visionary thinking. A drone cannot dream or imagine. Before we relinquish 'vision', in its broadest sense, to the drone, let's think about alternative descriptions for a drone's imaging technology. By doing this, we may protect ourselves from reductive forces, as well as violent ones. I prefer 'scope' or 'scoping' to describe a drone's imaging technology. A camera has a scope, as does a gun. A drone is a sophisticated mix of camera and gun, aiming and 'shooting' to capture images - aiming and shooting to kill. It is not an 'eye-in-the-sky", but a 'scope-in-the-sky'. Suddenly, the latter nomenclature untethers any kind of embodiment. I could say it disembowels, but that would indicate that a body existed to be disemboweled - and a body does not exist!

While aware that human operators, situated in ground control stations, currently monitor a drone's mission, the unmanned nature of the aircraft and its remoteness from human operators, is not an embodying process. It is an indication of what I call 'unhumanning' processes, as well as dehumanising ones. Wilcox draws attention to a "voyeuristic violence" enabled by the drone. (4) Here, the remote operators and the human victims are drawn together. One is considered voyeuristic as he or she gazes at screens relaying the intimacies of life and death. The other is the victim of a violent mortal death at the end of a guided missile. I propose another term to describe the hunting operation of a drone - 'scopophilic necro-intimacy'. (5)  Violent voyeurism suddenly becomes more grotesquely violent because 'scopophilic' conveys a kind of deviant morbidity. The term 'necro', relating to a corpse or death, conveys ideas of mortal death and perhaps moral or psychic death. 

Remote Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Does a drone have a body? If its imaging technology is not really describable as having the full capacities of human vision, does a body exist? I'd prefer to think of the drone as an outer chassis, not a skin, that houses its non-embodying payload, not "organs". Payloads can include sensors, fuel, weapons, cameras, radar equipment and so on. Payloads can depend on mission requirements. Like a mix-master cooking equipment, the drone can be fitted with what is needed at a particular time, for a particular mission. Does that seem embodying?

In my paintings, I use the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life as a representation of life, all life, including human life. The tree symbolises life forces with its branching appearance echoing vascular systems, neural pathways, river systems and cosmic forces. The tree, in my paintings, is a body - all bodies. It stands in contrast with the figure of the drone, which I often paint with small 'pixelating' squares to indicate its connection to the cyber, digital, virtual world. As Federica Caso points out in her essay Visualising the "Drone: War Art as Embodied Resistance" about my work, I do not normally include people in my dronescapes. Rather than trying to represent particular violent events with their individual living, injured or dead players, I take a cosmic view, where the tree is body and blood, and cosmic skies sing with the star dust from which we have all come from.

My painting below Anomaly Detection takes a cosmic view of the pale blue dot, Earth, seemingly targeted by three drones. With a cosmic perspective maybe we can detect anomalies that are not noticeable in an environment where "creeping normalcy" blinds us to insidious and silent behavioural risks?

Cheers, Kathryn

                                 Anomaly Detection Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

1.Gregoire Chamayou, Drone Theory, trans. Janet Lloyd (London: Penguin Books, 2015).41. 
2. Lauren Wilcox, "Drones" in Visual Global Politics, ed. Roland Bleiker (Abingdon and new York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2018), 111.
3. Chamayou, Drone Theory, 27, 32,
4. Wilcox, "Drones", ibid.

5. Kathryn Fox (Brimblecombe-Fox), Drones and Night Vision, Militarised Technology in Paintings by George Gittoes and Jon Cattapan, M. Phil thesis, (Brisbane: University of Queensland, 2017)

New Shoots Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 216

 Drone Zones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Scoping New Skies Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Occupied Landscape: Everywhere Oil on canvas 76 x 76 cm 2018

Occupied Landscape: Everywhere continues my interest in proposing that new topographies are being imposed upon our Earthly, biospheric and near-space landscape. These new topographies are not necessarily visible. Nodes, such as drones, mobile phones, ground control stations and satellites, may be visible, but the signals that connect them are not. With increasing dual-use capabilities of contemporary digital and cyber technologies, the prospect of an insidiously militarised landscape/environment cannot be ignored. This kind of occupation of landscape by signals could indicate a global ever-readiness for war, offensive and defensive, rather than just isolated cases of war and conflict.

In Occupied Landscape: Everywhere a weaponised drone loiters - hovers. Its pixelated appearance denotes its connection to digital technologies. The grids of red and white lines reveal a new netted layer over the landscape. In the title I use the word 'everywhere', drawing upon geographer Derek Gregory's ideas of the 'everywhere war'. This, of course, does not just mean everywhere geographically. It can also mean the everywhere of time, and cyberspace.

I have just returned from a stimulating two day workshop "Art + Conflict" hosted by the Institute of International Law and Humanities, Melbourne University Law School, and the Victorian College of the Arts, also at the University of Melbourne. It was a cross-disciplinary workshop, and a successful cross-disciplinary one! People from the Humanities, Law and Arts attended and spoke. Academics, curators and artists were also there, many wearing multiple hats. Four young academic scholars organised the workshop, Federica Caso [Uni of Queensland], Ms Shawna Lesseur [University of Connecticut], Stacey Vorster [Wits/UvA], Laura Petersen [University of Melbourne].

I was invited to be on the plenary panel [photo below], along with Prof Paul Gough, visual artist and Pro Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President in the school of Design and Social Context, RMIT, and Ryan Johnston who is the inaugural Director of Buxton Contemporary at the VCA, University of Melbourne. Ryan is also the immediate past Head of Art and the Australian War Memorial. 

L to R:
Prof Paul Gough, panel provocateur Fedrica Caso, Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox, Ryan Johnston.
Photo: Connor Foley [Institute of International Law and Humanities, University of Melbourne Law School]

A highlight was to hear Prof Desmond Manderson speak [photo below]. He is the Director, Centre for Law, Arts and Humanities, Australian National University College of Law. He spoke about Raphael Cauduro's murals in a stairwell in the Supreme Court of Justice building, Mexico city. The stairwell is used by judges to access their offices from the carport. It is also accessed by tour groups visiting the court building. Manderson's presentation brought to life the ghosts Cauduro had provocatively painted in replays of atrocious injustices. 

Prof Desmond Manderson. Image on screen section of stairwell where Raphael Cauduro's murals are painted, Supreme Court building, Mexico.Photo: Connor Foley [Institute of International Law and Humanities, University of Melbourne Law School]


Saturday, June 16, 2018


Outside Jesus College, Cambridge, April 2018

As regular readers of this blog know, I was invited to attend the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, (CSER) University of Cambridge, annual conference. The conference took place at Jesus College, 17 - 18 April, 2018. Around eighty people were invited to attend.

CSER is "dedicated to the study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilisation collapse." Even though a risk may have a low probability of occurring, if its outcome is cataclysmically irredeemable, then it is worth examining.

The conference, whilst focused on what some might call a morbid topic, was reassuring. Why? Because, the level of discussion, in presentations and workshops, about humanity's future was deep, analytical, open, inquisitive and creative. Importantly, CSER's aim to take an inter/multi-disciplinary approach to the "study and mitigation of risks that could lead to human extinction or civilisation collapse" was clearly evident. This approach demonstrates CSER's understanding that different disciplines can pose novel questions about issues relating to existential risks. This then assists identification of potential risks, plus possible ways to mitigate them. This is significant stuff!

Speakers included people involved in Mathematics, various kinds of Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Geography, Public Policy, Disaster Studies, Philosophy, Communication, Law and International Law, Politics, Biology, Innovation Studies, International Relations, Economics and Demographics. Some examples of topics include Dr. Seth Baum's presentation based on a paper A Model for the Probability of Nuclear War co-authored by him, Dr. Tamsin Edwards presentation on Antarctic ice sheets, sea levels and climate change, Dr. Karin Kuhlemann's terrific presentation on sexy (eg: climate change) and non-sexy (egs: overpopulation, disappearance of insects) catastrophic risks, and Prof Andrew Maynard's talk focusing on creativity and imagination, the film Ex Machina and more. 

Those in attendance, including me, contributed another layer to the multi-disciplinary dynamic of the conference. We came from all over the world. Additionally, the researchers working in CSER were available for workshop facilitation, debate, conversation and feedback. Please check out the CSER TEAM. You will see that they also represent multiple disciplines. And, yes, the three Co-Founders of the Centre, Lord Martin Rees, Prof Huw Price and Yaan Tallinn attended the conference.

Delighted to say I briefly met Lord Martin Rees, whose book Our Final Century, which I read in 2010, launched my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. He told me he has a new book coming out soon - something to look forward to! Also, delighted to say that I met Yaan Tallinn, who was a Co-Founder of Skype. He assists research into risks associated with emerging technologies; also into how research (eg: into safe artificial intelligence) can ensure beneficial outcomes for humanity. A very interesting man.

The conference theme was "Challenges of Existential Risk Research". This involved four sub-themes:
1. Challenges of Evaluation and Impact
2. Challenges of Evidence
3. Challenges of Scope and Focus
4. Challenges of Communication

Each afternoon, after a morning listening to invited speakers, conference attendees could choose one of two workshops. This allowed everyone to participate and have a say, contributing to the the four conference sub-themes. In the communication workshop I attended, I noted that although I am well informed about existential risk research, I am not an expert. But, I do know where to find experts! However, as a well informed visual artist who addresses ideas of existential risk in my work, I try to provoke questions that might make people more curious. Thus, my work is more catalytic than informational, hopefully triggering people to undertake their own research. I suggest that this is a valuable way to help communicate ideas relating to existential risk. While I did not say it at the conference, I have found that in the process of thinking about and creating a painting, new ideas about risk emerge. To be blunt, it offers another investigative methodology.

After the communication workshop I was approached by Prof Margaret Boden. She is one of CSER's scientific advisers, a highly regarded Professor of Cognitive Science from the University of Sussex. She has degrees in medical sciences, philosophy, and psychology, and integrates these disciplines with AI in her research. We had a great conversation that ranged across a variety of subjects. If you want to see her in action, she has just made the speech for the inaugural Margaret Boden lecture series, hosted by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Human Intelligence, University of Cambridge. You can watch you  on this YouTube link - I recommend that you do!

As you can tell I thoroughly enjoyed the CSER conference. And, I am not resting! My aim is to get people talking about existential risks. 

*Videos of some of the conference presentation will be uploaded onto CSER's website soon.

Out a window at Jesus College, Cambridge.

I first wrote about my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies in 2010, when I was reading Lord Martin Rees's book Our Final CenturyI have often written about my interest since then.

In fact, ideas of existential risk posed by emerging technologies interested me so much that when I was offered an opportunity to undertake post-graduate research at the University of Queensland, these ideas informed how I positioned my research topic. I chose to undertake a Master of Philosophy, and ultimately narrowed my topic to how two Australian artists, George Gittoes and Jon Cattapan, represent contemporary militarised technology in their paintings. My research involved art historical examinations of the two artists' practices, as well as investigations into the historical, social, political and ethical issues surrounding the development and use of contemporary militarised technology, particularly airborne drones and night vision technology. This research was scaffolded by technical research into airborne drone capabilities, persistent surveillance technologies and increasingly autonomous systems.

Anomaly Detection (Number 2) oil on linen 120 a 180 cm 2017

I deliberately chose a topic that would afford me the opportunity to undertake research that would feed back into my painting practice. And, indeed the research into militarised technology has fed back into my longer term concerns about how to portray existential risk posed by emerging technologies. Prior to my academic research I had already included painted binary code, often juxtaposing it with the tree-of-life, to indicate potential threats to life from accelerating developments in technology. Since starting my research the tree-of-life, binary code and the figure of the airborne drone [or indications of its presence] are variously positioned together in cosmic landscapes where the viewer can 'fly'. I completed my M. Phil degree in July 2017, and I am now thinking about a PhD. Rest assured ideas of existential risk posed by emerging technologies will inform any research topic I pursue.

Follow Me, Says The Tree oil on canvas 60 x 76 2017

Sunday, June 10, 2018


 New Star - False Star Oil on linen 97 x 112 cm 2018

This online 'exhibition' gathers together paintings that evoke the image of the star, suggesting that contemporary surveillance technology and its invisible signals create false stars. Yes, we may not see them, but that makes their influence far more insidious. 

Many of the paintings situate a weaponised airborne drone at the centre of a 'star'. However, this is not the case in all of them, thus the paintings draw upon signals transmitted and received by other nodes, such as satellites - and even - mobile phones. 

* Please click on the paintings' titles to link to my previous posts about them.*

I have previously written about my interest in making visible the invisible networking of signals that operatively enable digital and cyber surveillance, targeting and attack. I suggest that these signals create new kinds of topographies that occupy landscape. As you will see from this 'exhibition' I interpret landscape as a domain that now extends from Earth into space, where space assets such as communication and GPS satellites, are positioned. That many of these assets are dual-use complicates the role played by contemporary technology in the potential militarisation or 'militarisability' of everyday life. 

When landscape is extended into space the figure of the star becomes a landscape element. Traditionally stars in night skies a brought into a relationship with earthly landscapes. A point of departure here is astronomical art, perhaps paving a way for more open ended notions of landscape. 

I am also interested in how new stars/false stars impact on our relationship with stars as celestial guides, real and symbolic. For example: guiding stars in biblical stories, reference points for early seafearing navigators, and journeying points for souls of the deceased. Do new stars/false stars hijack the role of guidance, navigation, and soul life in ways that steer us towards a militarised future? Do they erode symbolic meaning? There are a plethora of other possible questions here...

New Star - False Star [above] is a new painting. A weaponised drone is situated at the centre of a landscape. But, are you looking down upon the drone and an earthly landscape beneath it, or are looking up into a netted skyscape? This play with perspective is a deliberate tactic on my part. I invite you to fly around the drone, turning human surveillance back upon it. This is demonstrated in all the paintings in this 'exhibition'.

                                New Star - False Star Oil on linen 97 x 112 cm 2018 DETAIL

In New Star - False Star the drone is painted with small squares [detail shot above], mimicking pixels, to indicate its link to digital and cyber technology and virtual representation. One could describe the painting as beautiful and this is important. Why? Because by creating an aesthetic appeal I try to draw attention to the stealthy and covert aspects of  contemporary militarised technology. I ask, have we noticed? I ask, what kind of subterfuge are we missing? I ask, what do we lose if invisible networks allow an ever-readiness for war? What kind of reality do we desire?

 Sensored Oil on linen 50 x 50 cm 2017

The 'stars' in this exhibition [except in False Stars] seem to extend their rays/signals beyond the edges of the paintings. This is again a deliberate ploy on my part. I try to indicate that the netting of landscape, and therefore, experience, by signals continues beyond the borders of the image. Once this is imagined, do you become more alert?  

The paintings in this 'exhibition' can be called cosmic landscapes, dronescapes, starscapes, signalscape....

 Drone Star Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

                                        Sky - Drone - Net Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 False Stars Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Swarm Surveillance Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2017 

The possibility of a swarm of drones presenting a kind of false galaxy or universe of stars is troubling!

 DATA DATA gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Strategic Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Code Empire Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

 Space Net Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Sunday, June 03, 2018


New Horizons Oil on linen 97 x 112 cm 2018

New Horizons continues my proposal that militarised and militarisable contemporary technologies, and their signaling systems and infrastructure, create new invisible topographies that crisscross and penetrate landscape. This landscape incorporates land, sky and space. The latter, in hosting various kinds of satellites used to transmit and receive communications, imaging and global positioning capabilities, is drawn into this extended landscape of signals. 

In New Horizons the weaponised drone, with its long expansive wings, creates a kind of horizon line. This line can be taken as a literal delineation. It can also be taken metaphorically. For example, with the development and use of weaponised drones, what kind of 'line' is crossed? Like any horizon, there is always something beyond it. What if this metaphoric horizon is time, the future? This poses further questions - Have we already militarised this future? Is there anything beyond the metaphoric horizon - is there a future?

In New Horizons I have also painted lines that seem to hover over the landscape, dissecting it into zones and co-ordinates. These lines mimic computer generated graphics, perhaps like those a remote drone pilot might see on their computer screens, to help surveillance and targeting operations. Is the ubiquitous computer screen, mobile phone and tablet screen, a new kind of horizon? 

In my painting the lines painted over the landscape offer a perspectival entrance into a netted topography that imposes itself upon the landscape. The layering and netting of land-based and atmospheric landscape with signals and nodes, such as drones, satellites, relay stations, mobile phones, suggests a kind of hostage situation. But, are we aware of this? In some parts of the world it is clearly apparent; in places like Yemen, Northern Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan and Gaza, where persistent surveillance and the potential for airborne rapid response attack are constant.  

The underlying landscape in New Horizons is colourful and vibrant. Its liveliness contrasts with the spare linearity of the signals and the drone. Looking closely at the colourful landscape, multiple possible horizons exist. 

The interconnected nature of signals, ricocheting from node to node, could be read as some kind of constant readiness for war. Or, perhaps that we are already and persistently in a state of war. Here the ideas of perpetual war, and the 'everywhere war' [Derek Gregory] help us understand the stealthy role played by interconnected digital and cyber systems,and their appropriation for multiple-use civilian/military/security/policing activities. 

As an artist, I am interested in how landscape can be mediated and changed by invisible signals. Even considering landscape as an environment the extends from land, to sky and into space disrupts traditional notions of landscape. The idea that signals pose new topographies adds to this disruption. By viewing landscape as an extended environment, I see opportunities for new approaches to examining ideas of colonisation and occupation. Additionally, these intersect with neo-capitalist imperatives to economically quantify spaces and places in terms of ownership and value. The appropriation of signals by militarising forces poses interesting and alarming questions in a potential era of neo-colonisation. The unseen nature of buried and undersea cabling also intersects with this stealthy appropriation.

General unawareness of invisible and unseen enabling systems, particularly for those of us who live outside active war and conflict zones, means we may not understand the potential for insidious manipulation of human behaviour? 

Maybe we have already crossed an horizon we did not know was there?


P.S. Have you read Federica Caso's article about my dronescape paintings Visualising the Drone: War Art as Embodied Resistance ? I responded to it in my last post Exposing the Invisible

Friday, May 25, 2018


Are you above the surveillance net, or below it?

Federica Caso recently published an essay "Visualising the Drone: War Art as Embodied Resistance" in E-International Relations. Caso is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland. She is completing a thesis on the body and the militarisation of western post-conscription societies. Her essay in E-International relations reflects on "ethical questions about the aestheticisation of violence and the anaesthetisation of publics." Caso's pivotal question is "How can artists represent war without reproducing it, without making war into a beautified spectacle for public consumption devoid of critique, and without militarising their body, work, and art?" She uses my dronescapes to grapple with this question. She goes onto say,  

       "Drones make warfare look surgical, clean, and as if there is nothing to see (Gregory,           2012). Against this backdrop, Brimblecombe-Fox has realised that it is paramount to             represent and uncover drone warfare in ways that reveal the invisible. Yet, not many             public artists are in the business of doing so."

Caso identifies my quest to make visible the invisible aspects of drone operation. However, she digs deep into the question of making the invisible - visible. She notes that it "also encompass the realm of affective cognition, that is, the knowledge derived from the emotive responses of the body in the encounter with the other, human and non-human." She suggests that  "Art’s currency is emotions, and therefore it is a crucial site of affective cognition." She suggests my paintings provide an opportunity to encounter "the other, human and non-human" by providing a site/s where "affective cognition" is stimulated in ways that inform the viewer. Knowledge gained is not just the revelatory aspect of exposing the invisible, but also the the kind of knowledge gleaned by taking note of emotional responses. 

In this post I want to focus on one aspect of making visible the invisible operations of airborne militarised drones. This is the exposure of enabling invisible signals. These signals are those that are transmitted and received by a drone and its supporting operative infrastructure ie: nodes such as ground control stations, communication and GPS satellites, plus devices such as mobile phones, computers and so on. 

I 'see' these signals as layering new topographies across and into the landscape, a dimensional environment that now extends from land, into the sky and into space. Space Net and  Remote Control (below) are examples of how I imagine this extended 'landscape'. Exposure is a form of resistance.

Space Net Gouache n paper 56 x 76 cm (unframed) 2017

This extended dimension of landscape has a sense of volume, even a body. For me, this has been colonised and penetrated by the proliferation of signals that enable the operation of systems that are either militarised or militarisable. By militarisable, I mean the increasing dual-use military/civilian capabilities of contemporary technological platforms, such as space-based assets, mobile phone infrastructure, and digital and cyber systems. And, let us not forget accelerating developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.

Remote Control Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016

A landscape that is invisibly colonised by signals, enabling surveillance, monitoring and targeting, is worth critical attention. These types of activities cut across military, policing and security pursuits, therefore highlighting the increasing blurred lines between civilian and military use of technological infrastructure. Additionally malign or aberrant state or non-state actors can also conscript, by mal-intent, the same infrastructure. I 'see' a problem! 

Of course, in some parts of the world the impact of the invisible is already keenly felt eg; Yemen, Northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and others. There are arguments that a drone strike is 'surgically' targeted, but the knowledge that 'flying watchtowers' (Chamayou), with long range and long dwell capabilities, lurk in skies above, creates a constant fear for all who live under those skies.

If you are remote from places where drones loiter in skies above, the problem of a landscape invisibly occupied by netted signals also seems remote. But, the threat to human life and wellbeing is clearly demonstrated in countries where drone surveillance and strikes occur. That people anywhere on Earth are afraid of what the sky might harbour, is an indictment on all of humanity. Think about it - as  Voyager 1  travels beyond our solar system, at the same time we have people on Earth who are afraid of the sky! This defies enlightened sense.

What if an invisibly occupied, penetrated and colonised landscape posed an existential threat to all of humanity? Would you/ we pay more attention?

 Drone Star Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016

 Droned Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016
Are you 'flying' above the drones landscape, or are you below the droned sky. Or, is this a cross section of landscape, demonstrating a subterranean occupation as well?

Drone Zones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016
Will the space between land and space be zoned? Who or what will have jurisdiction? Will there be new types of ownership titles?

In my dronescapes I use cosmic perspectives to expose signals, technological connectivity and the new nets that crisscross landscape - the extended environment from land, to sky, to space. I visually propose that these signals, while layering new topographies over the landscape, can also mimic landscape elements, such as stars, the rays of the sun and clouds. 

The cosmic perspective, though, allows you to fly around drones or indications of their presence, thus turning the human gaze [in imagination-a dynamic form of vision] back onto the drones. In many of the paintings, you are unsure whether you are above or below the drones, or indication of their presence ie: signals. 

I could write more - but this post is already too long. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

Please take a look at my DRONESCAPES page for more about my process - and - thinking. Oh! - and - more paintings!

1. These resources attest to fear of the sky:
The Atlantic article  reporting on thirteen year old Pakistani boy Zabair's experiences. 

Atef Abu Saif's book The Drone Eats With Me: Diaries from a City Under Fire


Saturday, May 12, 2018


Data Heaven Oil on linen 100 x 120 cm 2017

I painted Data Heaven last year. I present it to you as a landscape, cosmicscape, dronescape, datascape, futurescape, codescape!

At the centre of the square, in the centre of the cloud, binary code ‘instructs’ the word DATA. The fifth line of code, ‘instructing’ the letter D, indicates algorithmic continuity. The cloud looks like an eye, with DATA as its ‘pupil’. I am playing with ideas relating to THE CLOUD, big data and humanity’s increasing reliance on digital and cyber technologies. That we can exist virtually across multiple technological platforms/systems while alive is one thing, but that this virtual existence can continue after mortal death, is indicative of  -  DATA Heaven, or perhaps - DATA Hell?

The white cloud-eye is surrounded by fiery ‘lashes’ that lick the cosmos. Is the fire destructive or a symbol of renewal? The binary code is painted white, like the cloud, to reveal subterfuge – DATA is used for scoping, surveillance and targeting purposes. The code is positioned at the centre of red cross-hairs to indicate the replacement of human sight/vision by algorithms, scoping for targets – to sell something to – or to kill. Here, the cloud becomes a visual metaphor for the airborne weaponised drone, its persistent surveillance and increasingly autonomous capabilities.

I am particularly interested in making a critical comment about the use of 'vision' as a word to describe machine imaging technology. In a few of my recent paintings I play with images that look like an eye, but on closer inspection are not really eyes. To ascribe a machine, no matter how advanced, with powers of vision, reduces human capacities of vision - in it broadest sense ie: not only seeing with eye-ball and pupil, but also with a mind's eye/imagination, in dreams, and visionary thinking. A scoping machine, such as a drone, cannot imagine, dream or generate visionary thoughts/thinking. Let's not give away human capacities that may actually be useful for us in the future! Relinquishing them too soon, and normalising things like machine vision - for me - poses an existential risk [can you 'see' this too?].

Data Heaven? poses questions about the future of humanity – its mortal and digital existence.


After winding down from my wonderful trip overseas, I have returned to the studio. The photo shows me preparing the early stages of a painting. And, there's Data Heaven in the back of the studio. Another new painting sits on the desk to the right. 

Please read about my trip, speaking engagements, conferences etc in my last post: Please click on the heading below.


Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox  Studio