Monday, February 24, 2020

VULNERABILITY: THE NETWORKED & INTERCONNECTED SYSTEM

Lethal Landscape Gouache on paper 57 x 76 cm 2018


TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
On the plane back from the UK* last week I watched quite a few movies. At 181 cm tall, sleeping in economy class is really not possible, until exhaustion steps in. So, I try to exhaust myself with movies. Among the array of movies I watched was the latest Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate. 

Interesting...

The first of the six Terminator movies Terminator came out in 1984. That's thirty-six years ago! Clearly, the idea of a terminator robot that will relentlessly not 'die' still pervades popular culture! However, with current debates about lethal autonomous weapons the idea of independently motile killing machines is something to seriously think about.


Scopic Gaze: 21st Century oil on linen 36 x 36 cm 2018


NETWORKED AND INTER-CONNECTED SYSTEM
In Terminator: Dark Fate, as in the other iterations of the Terminator story, a future where a Skynet MACHINE-SYSTEM imperils humanity, plays a key part.

In Terminator: Dark Fate the destruction of humanity's networked and interconnected technological system is key to the AI overlord's destruction of human civilisation and life. In the film this destruction seems to happen in an instant, almost at a flick of a switch. This is demonstrated with scenes of carnage coupled with systems failure, for example, a plane - obviously no longer supported by GPS and communication systems - suddenly falls out of the sky. THIS got my attention - not an easy thing to watch when one is actually on a plane!

Clearly a malevolent super intelligent AI destroys the existing system, and replaces it with its own insidious time warping one. The physical tentacles of the system are shape-shifting robots, armies of killing machines and swarms of nano-slaughterbots.

SIGNALS
I immediately reflected upon some of my paintings where I make visible the invisible or discrete signals that enable networking and interconnection of the electronic, digital and cyber systems that propel military, dual-use and militarise-able civilian technologies. In these paintings I attempt to expose the vulnerability of an inter-connected and networked system. Vulnerabilities range, from possibilities such as global militarisation of systems by state or non-state actors, cascading effects of a technical accident, results of an unintended event or an event perpetrated with malign intent, either by a human being or a super-intelligent AI. And, then there is the possibility of another coronal mass ejection  [CME], a natural event beyond anyone's control. Do read up on what a CME is - one occurred in 1859, and Earth missed another one in 2012, by one week.

Although the figure of the Terminator robot elicits fear, its theatricality, physicality and materiality detracts from the prime evilness of the all-encompassing malign system that hijacks humanity's and civilisation's future. Regular readers will 'get' that I am somewhat concerned!

BECAUSE

Science fiction stories are often prescient.


Space Net Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 17


MILITARY SPONSORED SCI - FI WRITING COMPETITIONS
The prescience of science fiction is why contemporary militaries are now holding sci-fi writing competitions. Here is a link to the Australian Defence College's first science fiction writing competition, an outcome of a recent Australian Defence College Sci-fi and the Future of War conference, that included eminent science fiction authors, cyber warfare specialists, futurists, and ethicists.

And, here is an example of a US Military 2019 science fiction writing competition .

And, an interesting article Science Fiction's Hidden Codes written by Lt Colonel David Calder, US Army. He writes about the benefits, for military personnel, of reading science fiction. Commander of the Australian Defence College, Major General Mick Ryan, is mentioned in the article, for his strategy of including science fiction in the college's training programs.

Sci-fi is getting another lease of life - a consciously militarised one.

I have questions.

Are these competitions signs that the future is already militarised, that it is already occupied by wariness, stealth, strategy, and, clearly - anxiety? Perhaps these sci-fi writing competitions are attempts to hack imagination? What happens if the future and imagination are militarised? If I were to write a sci-fi story for a competition run by a military force I would play around with the hacking of imagination idea! Yes, it would be convoluted story!

In the meantime, I paint....


I have posted a few of my paintings that visually critique the networked system...


Cheers,
Kathryn

* I was returning from the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, University of Sheffield. Such a stimulating and collegiate conference!


Charting the Invisible gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019


Martial Map gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019


Topography of Signals Oil on linen 57 x 57 cm 2019


Lethal Landscape, False Horizons Oil on linen 70 x 100 cm 2018

Thursday, February 13, 2020

POST CONFERENCE- AESTHETICS OF DRONE WARFARE

     Ideas for new paintings, triggered at Aesthetics of Drone Warfare Conference

I attended and presented at the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, University of Sheffield, last weekend. It was a thoroughly stimulating and collegiate conference, with an array of different perspectives from multiple disciplines - International Relation/Studies, Art History, Literary Studies, Geography, Cultural Studies and more. Do visit the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare project’s website to read more about their research and activities.

Keynote speaker Derek Gregory gave a forensic-like examination of the lead up and aftermath of a disastrous February 2010 drone strike in Afghanistan on three vehicles carrying civilians. Listening to his thorough step-through of US military decision making and commentary was a sobering experience that still occupies my mind. Fellow keynote speaker Antoine Bousquet presented an intriguing history of surveillance and targeting technologies using, in part, an art historical lens that drew upon the history of the development of perspective. His presentation followed research detailed in his recent book “The Eye of War”, which I highly recommend. I also attended a workshop given by Drone Wars UK. It was a great overview of their research, and research methodologies.

Every paper presented at the conference was interesting, opening up new insights and perspectives. Please take a look at the conference booklet to read the array of abstracts, and presenter bios.

I was delighted to present “Painting Airborne Militarised Drones: An Act of Imaginational Metaveillance” on a panel with two other artists and researchers, Anna Walker from the University of Plymouth, and Joseph DeLappe from Abertay University. Joseph and I had examples of our work in a small exhibition held for the duration of the conference. This was received really well by conference delegates and organisers.





I had a very interesting experience at the conference - being in the audience when my work was discussed in another researcher’s presentation. Michael Richardson from the University of New South Wales, Australia, gave a paper entitled “Drone Warfare and the Aesthetics of Nonhuman Witnessing”. I will admit to being pleased with a comment he made - that my paintings ‘pulled politics into account’. He also discussed the work of fellow Australian artist Baden Pailthorpe, as well as the fascinating Forensic Architecture group, Goldsmiths, University of London. The nonhuman witness, or to imagine what the nonhuman might witness, are ideas that open up intriguing perspectives on human/nonhuman relationships. Michael is convening a conference called Drone Cultures that addresses themes of witnessing - University of New South Wales, 30 April-1May this year. Do come along!

Going to conferences or presentations that focus on my areas of interest - militarised and militarised-able technology, contemporary war, the future, defence procurement and policy, existential risk - always trigger new ideas for new paintings. There are some photos of my notes and sketches from my notebook, top and below. Yes these scrawls will likely end up, in some way, in new paintings!

Cheers,
Kathryn







Wednesday, January 29, 2020

TOPOGRAPHY OF SIGNALS

Topography of Signals Oil on linen 57 x 57 cm 2019


Topography of Signals relates to two recent works on paper Martial Map and Charting The Invisible . In all three works I imagine flying to a distance beyond Earth and its array of sky-based and space-based technologies. From this imagined perspective I visualise the signals that transmit data and instructions to various kinds of technological hardware, such as, satellites, drones, ground control stations, mobile phones, credit cards, GPS in vehicles etc. By exposing signals it becomes apparent that the networked and interconnected system imposes a new kind of topography upon landscape. This new topography volumentrically occupies our extended environment, from land to orbiting satellites.

Imagine you are below the netted landscape revealed in Topography of Signals. Now, imagine you are above the signal-net. From either of these orientations a sense of foreclosure is felt. If you are below the signals you are woven into the matrix that volumetrically occupies extended environment. If you are above, an enclosure is 'witnessed'. Here, I channel some of geographer, Ian Shaw's, thoughts on enclosure, in what he calls the 'predator empire', and what I call the 'code empire'

This kind of imaginational metaveillance, undertaken in imaginational flight, is visualised in my paintings in ways that intersect with counter-mapping tropes. Counter-mapping is a way to scrutinise maps created by colonisers. It helps to reveal and map the ignored or subdued stories of pre-colonial  cultural, political and societal significance. While exposing signals as nets that occupy extended environment is not a re-examination of the past, it is a way to critically think about the networked and interconnected system as a coloniser, now and into the future. This is especially important in an age where the lines between militarised technology, dual-use technology and militarise-able civilian technology, are increasingly blurred. 

What kinds of risks and vulnerabilities are attached to a system that potentially enables global colonising forces?

_________________________________________________________________________________


Looking forward to the 

7-8 February, University of Sheffield, UK.

Please check out the conference booklet 

I am presenting a talk about my work 
Painting Airborne Militarised Drones: An Act Of Imaginational Metaveillance



Cheers,
Kathryn





Tuesday, January 14, 2020

LIFE, AT THE FRONT

Life, At The Front Oil on linen 56 x 112 cm 2020


Against a current backdrop of tension and disaster, such as the catastrophic fires in Australia, dangerous flooding in Indonesia [and even Dubai], and heightened tensions in the Middle East, there is also an overlay of political dissonance. As belief systems and politics are twisted and provoked by social media and fake news, opinion collapses into binaries of good and bad, right and wrong. It feels like LIFE is on the front-line of a battle. This battle seeps into our homes and workplaces via the screen - computer screens, iPads, mobile phones, and other devices. That these devices are networked and interconnected allows the binaries to accumulate at extremes, where complexity is lost. Near light-speed transmission of news, opinion, data, Tweets, comments [and photos of cats] keeps us on a fast moving treadmill, that goes nowhere. It creates a kind of inertia. 

No time for complexity. 

No time. 

With little time to think what happens?
I am reminded of Paul Virilio when he described the screen in Open Sky (1997) as “the square horizon” that causes “confusion of near and far, of inside and outside, disorders of common perception that will gravely affect the way we think”.(1) 

Life, At The Front and the Screen
In Life, At The Front I have tried to channel the impression of a screen. The orienting white lines mimic those that could be seen on a remote drone pilot's computer screen. Or, perhaps it is a computer gamer's screen? As the title suggests a battlespace exists. Is it real or virtual? Does it really matter? It could be both?

Squares of colour mimic pixels. These 'pixels' provoke questions about how contemporary images are generated, the veracity of images, how we are trained to look at images...and more. Please note my use of the word 'generated', rather than 'created', to describe the production of contemporary images that require screen-based platforms for production, exhibition and storage. 

The ubiquity of digital imagery and its generative digital and cyber processes, requires and causes standardisation, thus enabling the efficiency of streamlined globalised consumption. Here, my thoughts are informed by Virilio's commentary on standardisation and synchronicity in his 2012 book The Great Accelerator, where he also writes about a resultant inertia. He remarks that inertia threatens a "paralysis or, rather, the sudden tetraplegia of the societal body”. (2)

Tree-of-Life
In the painting a multicoloured burning tree - a tree-of-life - seems to be part of the orienting graphic overlay, but this is unclear. Maybe the tree, on fire, is a warning, just like the catastrophic fires in Australia. It warns, not only of fire, but of other catastrophes caused by not paying attention to science, by not thinking in complex ways, by not being prepared, and not looking into a future beyond a political cycle.........................

A red tree - another tree-of-life - sways in the wind on a distant horizon. Perhaps another warning?

Horizons
The landscape beyond the white-lined graphics, tumultuously unfolds into multiple horizons. And, with multiple horizons, there are multiple potential perspectives. Here, I think of horizons and perspective in literal and metaphoric ways. The fake perspective of the white targeting graphics is prosaic by comparison. Virilio again provides a way to critically think about the effects of ubiquitous screen-based technology. He comments, "What is the danger of globalzation? There is no perspective. There is an optical correctness being set up, and there is a generalized tele-surveillance that comes from the military with its drones, etc". (3)

Perspective
The question of perspective is one that has preoccupied me for a couple of decades. It is not a new interrogation. In my cosmic landscapes of the past I have invited viewers to fly in their imaginations, to play with perspective, both literal and metaphoric. 

My recent work dealing with militarised and militarise-able technology still invites viewers to 'fly' into cosmic realms. My work still plays with literal and metaphoric perspective, to re-enliven perspective, to provoke it - as a form of resistance.


1. Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (London and New York: Verso, 1997), 26.
2. Paul Virilio, The Great Accelerator trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2012),18.
3. Paul Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer, The Accident of Art, trans. Michael Taormina (New York and Las Angeles, Semiottext(e), 2005), 74.


NEWS

I am presenting at the


 Interdisciplinary conference 
University of Sheffield, UK 
7-8 February.

My painting New Horizons is the conference image!
And, it has been printed onto the conference tote bags
I am excited by the fact that as delegates walk around Sheffield, and return home on trains, planes and buses, these tote bags will be spread around the world!




Cheers,
Kathryn




Wednesday, January 01, 2020

ARE WE PREPARED?


January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared? Oil on linen 30 x 35 cm


Fire and Smoke
Catastrophic fires continue to burn in Australia, around the continent.* Exhausted fire services and volunteer fire fighters have valiantly fought these ongoing fires, some fires morphing into fire storms that scorch the earth as they shoot flames upwards into trees where the canopy becomes an elevated fast moving fiery hell. Daylight turns to red and then black, smoke drifts across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, and Australia records some of the worst air quality in the world. 

Were we prepared for the cataclysmic nature of this Summer's fire season? When hundreds of homes are destroyed, lives are lost and emergency evacuations of whole townships happen, we have to address the changing nature of the climate, how the landscape is inhabited and current risk mitigation management systems. Clearly extreme fire risk mitigation management has been lacking or, worryingly, not supported. 

The ongoing dire situation with the fires has revealed a dangerous political disconnect between government and expectations from the population. This disconnect will, likely, continue long after the fires have subsided. Any ensuing political instability will add fuel to unrest, protest, disorder and disappointment. Are we prepared for home-grown extremes of potential political and civil turmoil? 

Risk
The extent and ferocity of the fires have been described as unprecedented. Risk management must include attention to potential worst case scenarios - the unprecedented. With this in mind, what does the current cataclysmic fire situation tell us about other potential cataclysmic or unprecedented risks? Clearly environmental risks such as fire, drought and flood should have taught Australians a lot about risk mitigation. Are there other risks that we remain oblivious to, ignore or find too hard to comprehend? I was thinking about this kind of question when I painted January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared?

January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared?
I finished January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? today - January 1, 2020. I have painted it over the last couple of weeks, as the fires burn around Australia. Most people in Australia will likely know someone directly affected by the fires - for example, as the majority of a family member's property burned, the house was saved by a fuel reduction burn [about 2 hectares of a 10 hectare property] undertaken and organised during the previous Winter. The family member commented on the difference between the surface fire conducted during the fuel reduction burn and the ferocity of the fire that swooped though the property a few weeks ago. The Winter burn did not scorch the soil, the Summer out-of-control burn did.

This morning I listened to a Future of Life Institute podcast conversation between Prof Max Tegmark and Prof Huval Noah Harari. I have followed both for quite some time, and read a reasonable amount of their work. The podcast is an hour long, and it was a great way to start the first day of the new decade. Tegmark and Harari discussed - grounding morality and issues of consciousness, global health, animal suffering, existential risks and the ethics of the long-term future, nuclear war as a neglected global risk, near term AI and artificial general intelligence, creating new stories for the 21st century, risks of big data and AI enabled human hacking, and what does it mean to be human and what should we want to want. Early on in the conversation Harari asked a question about whether we are prepared for the future. Ah ha, this consolidated my ideas into a title for my new painting!

In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? a fiery background is a literal reference to the current  Australian fires, and a metaphorical reference to an urgency to think deeply about other potential future risks. Regular readers will know of my long-term interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies, and my more focused interest in contemporary and emerging militarised and militarise-able technologies. 

January 1, 2020, Are We prepared?, like Australia: December 2019 [below] also refers to the RAAF's confirmation of an order for SkyGuardian weaponisable drones. As weaponisable drones are acquired or manufactured by an increasing number of countries, are we prepared for the kind of war the future 'promises'?

Pixels, Parody and Perspective
In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? the airborne weaponised drone is painted in small colourful squares that mimic pixels. The colours of the pixels a lolly-like - unreal, but seductive. They contrast with the fiery colours in the background, demonstrating the drone's distance from reality. Is the figure of the drone idealised? If so, what are the risks of idealisation, digital idealisation? The painting also parodies a computer generated image of a drone on a screen, perhaps a remote pilot's screen. It also references the digital imaging technology embedded in a drone's surveillance and targeting systems. Perhaps the fiery background is a war zone, either real or simulated? 

In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared?, are you, the viewer, looking down upon the drone and a fiery landscape below, or are you below the drone looking up at a hellish sky? As you fly, in imagination, around, below and above the drone 'imaginational metaveillance' returns veillance, as a kind of play with perspective, to the human. What kinds of unprecedented risks are revealed when perspective and imagination mingle? Are we prepared to not only to address these risks, but also to look for them?


Australia: December 2019 Oil on linen 23 x 62 cm 2019


* I have not included any links to the fire situation. There are many, and easy to find if you Google.

Kathryn

Sunday, December 22, 2019

GOD?


GOD? Oil on on linen 41 x 51 cm 2019



No answers
Only questions

Colourful zeros and ones
'Instruct'
The word
GOD


This painting depicts an algorithmic representation of the word GOD  
01000111 01001111 01000100. The painting also depicts an ambiguous landscape with diagonal lines that cut through it.

So, is the binary code - the string of colourfully painted zeros and ones - a representation of GOD? Note the question mark in the title of the painting. But, there is no question mark, or instructed binary code question mark - 00111111 - depicted in the painting. Is this GOD a proxy?
  
Here are a few more questions! Is the painting a representation of GOD in a landscape or GOD as landscape? Is it a real landscape or a computer generated landscape? Perhaps the diagonal lines convey orienting graphics on a computer screen, maybe the screen of a remote militarised drone pilot? Maybe it is a computer game? Is there a target?

What does the binary code 'instructing' the word GOD mean? I don't have an answer - there was a lot going on in my head when I painted it! However, this question can, perhaps, be addressed with other questions, such as  - where, what and how is GOD in the age of the algorithm, the era of the drone, and the epoch of ubiquitous surveillance and increasingly autonomous systems? 

Regular readers will know where these questions come from.

A recent post HUMAN or Algorithm has more of my paintings depicting colourfully painted strings of binary code that playfully, but critically, 'instruct'.

I'll leave it to you now.


-------------------------------------------------

NEWS
Check out the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare project, University of Sheffield, UK
And, particularly check out the project's forthcoming conference, February 2020.
I am speaking.
And, you will notice that my painting New Horizons is the conference image!



Cheers
Kathryn
www.kathrynbrimblecombe-fox.com



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

AUSTRALIA: DECEMBER 2019 - FIRE AND DRONES

Australia: December 2019 Oil on linen 23 x 62 cm 2019


In Australia, as 2019 closes:

Fires rage across a dry country. 

The RAAF's MQ-B9 SkyGuardian weaponisable drones have been ordered. 

...................................................................

Fire changes and disrupts landscape, environment and lives.

The airborne militarised drone, a paragon of 21st century techno-power, changes war, and therefore, life.

......................................................................


I had a lot of thoughts rumbling in my head when I painted Australia, December 2019. But, predominantly I was reacting to current news events, the type of events that can define the future. 

Do we let these events define the future - are we letting them, define the future?

.....................................................................

Australia, December 2019

Flames

Hot

Dry

Landscape

War

Future

Landscape, war and the future.
Landscape, real and virtual.
War, networked and everywhere.
Future?

Flames

Politics

........................................................................


Update January 1, 2020
Another fire and drone painting is discussed at
ARE WE PREPARED?  January 1, 2020


And, some paintings from 2017.


Hot Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


Fire and Flood, Extremus Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


Anthropocene Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017



And, the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare project's conference is in February. Here, is there promotional flyer for the conference, with my painting New Horizons as the central image. 



Cheers, 
Kathryn

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

THE WIND ASKS, WHICH DIRECTION?

The Wind Asks, Which Direction? Oil on linen 81 x 102 cm 2019


This new painting The Wind Asks, Which Direction? is connected to another painting called Beware, Whispers the Wind [below]. 

In both paintings I am interested in how virtual landscapes and/or landscapes with superimposed screen-based computer graphics mediate our relationship with, and understanding of, environment. In The Wind Asks, Which Direction? red and white lines mimic computer graphics overlaid onto a landscape which could be real or not real? Is this an image from a computer game, or maybe an image on a remote drone pilot's computer screen? A compass exposes a tension between the real and not real, its four cardinal points are all 'N'. But does this 'N' mean 'north', or does it mean 'no direction', 'nowhere', 'nihilism', 'nothingness'? The compass has no dial.

Tree-of-life
Red trees-of-life, positioned in the background landscape, sway in the wind. However, one sways one way and the other sways in the opposite direction. Does this mean there is turbulence out in the landscapes of reality, the wind agitating for our attention? Does it indicate that when the wind blows in one place, it can blow another way in a different place - like in real life? Maybe the trees attempt to restore reality by demonstrating that the wind still exists? But, could these trees be sending a warning, that direction is lost in a world where the fake compass, a metaphor for the 21st century, has wielded its influence? The red trees-of-life differ from the white trees 'planted' on the red line graphic. The white trees are the same colour as the compass. The trees are as fake as the fake compass. What are we witnessing?

Pixels
The tension between reality and the virtual is also indicated by the small squares of colour that appear to form parts of the landscape. These squares mimic pixels. Are they indicators that the background landscape is a computer generated image? Or, do they indicate that this landscape pretends to be virtual, as a subterfuge - a strategic measure of exposure. Or, do they warn us that pixels are indicators of images formulated and generated for humans by machines - after all, machine learning and AI tools do not really need a generated image to scope for data?  

Resistance
As a painting The Wind Asks, Which Direction? act as a resistance. It does so by not relying on digital and cyber platforms for creation, exhibition and storage. Although not reliant on these platforms painting can still critique - and - from a distance, where there is room for perspective.

The Wind Asks, Which Direction? and Beware, Whispers the Wind are examples of my attempts to visually think through how militarised and militarise-able systems, platforms and devices occupy,  mediate and militarise landscape and extended environment. 

My Painting I Painted The Wind [bottom] was painted in 2001.

Cheers,
Kathryn

 Beware, Whispers the Wind  Oil on linen 61 x 97 cm 2019



I Painted the Wind Oil on linen 80 x 120 cm 2001