Sunday, July 31, 2016


Data Data Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

This painting was inspired by an article written by media theorist Mark Andrejevic and law academic Mark Burden. The article "Defining The Sensor Society "  appeared in Television and New Media (2014). Apart from being a fascinating article that examines the increased use of sensor devices  and privacy considerations resulting from always-on surveillance, monitoring etc, there are a few phrases and sentences that have stimulated images in my head. 

Data Data is one of these images. And, the sentence that struck a visual chord, resulting in this painting, is "For drones, the signal-saturated sky is a sea of electromagnetically stored data that can be swooped up, processed, refined, and perhaps put to use."  [p.5] What a sentence! 

So, with Data Data I have played with the idea of "swooped up" data capture by a drone.  I have painted wave-like electromagnetic transmissions which seem to flow into some kind of storage system. The transmissions can also flow out from here, if needed. As the words "perhaps put to use" indicate, the data may not be useful, but it's collected anyway. Why? Because in the future it might be useful! Patterns of behaviour, for example, may not flag attention until other data signals some kind of correlation. 

However, "put to use" has serious implications when it is a drone that may be the instrument that wields actions as a result of data that is identified as useful. 

The painting below Sky of Eyes takes the idea of surveillance and monitoring into an imagined place where the sky is now inhabited - by eyes.  The drone is considered as an always-on unblinking eye. This has nothing to do with a human's vision capabilities. And, here I take the word 'vision' to mean not only sight of eyeball and pupil, but also imaginary vision. For me a drone's capacities are not about 'vision' but more about scoping. This links with a drone's other significant task - to target!

Both paintings continue my quest to re-consider ideas of landscape, to untether it from earth-bound horizons in order to reveal un-traversed perspectives that may provide insights into the future and humanity's place in it - perhaps....

Sky of Eyes Gouache on paper 19 x 26.5 cm 2016


Saturday, July 23, 2016


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

Media theorists have appropriated the figure of the drone to describe a process of "droning" - of life!* It is a way of describing the interactivity between the multitude of sensors we, either knowingly or not, engage with each day, and the processes of data collection, monitoring, data mining and usage. It's not really just about collecting content, but also monitoring patterns of behaviour, preferences and so on. This data may be used by advertisers, policy makers, app developers and others to target individuals or groups of people with offerings that run a gamut of possibilities.  However, correlations between and amongst collected data may not be identified as useful until some time in the future. The future identifiers of these correlations may not be working for advertisers or policy makers, but possibly more interrogative, covert or malign entities. 

So where does the actual militarised unmanned air vehicle or drone fit in? It's all about its data collection and surveillance capabilities, undertaken by remote pilots and remote sensor analysts. These remote operated activities can lead to targeting and attack decisions - albeit a different kind of targeting to that employed by advertisers and policy makers!.

The military drone acts as a transmitter, receiver and collector of information. This information can come from its own cameras, or from 'sensored' data gathered from mobile phones, GPS systems, and other devices that help tract patterns of behaviour, as well as other more concrete types of information. The major task is surveillance in order to identify, monitor and nominate individuals or groups whose online, physical or other behaviours attract attention for being aberrant or potentially so. In the military or counter-insurgency sphere a drone's sensor mode can turn very quickly into killing mode with the deployment of Hellfire or guided missiles. 

* Associate Professor Mark Andrejevic, from Pomona College, USA is someone who writes compellingly about what he calls the "droning of experience". In fact he has written an article called The Droning of Experience  published in Fibre Culture Journal. I urge you to read it. 

Droned Landscape Gouche on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

So, my paintings Drone Life Shadow Play and Droned Landscape are my imaginings of droning experiences! Rather than allude to a droning sense, I have painted drones - Reapers actually. 

Drone Life Shadow Play - no matter where we are or what we are doing there is a likelihood that we are transmitting data - when we make a phone call, walk into a large shopping centre, drive through a toll way, buy something with a card, use a computer, drive our cars and so on. 

I imagine shadows dancing around us...shadows we cannot see, shadows from things we cannot see, actions we are taking that are unconscious yet prevail as tracks to be brought to light, possibly in a far distant future. I imagine the collected data, stored in huge servers housed in massive buildings, like its an array of captured shadows - shadows caught before they could even be cast. Yet, the data is not like a soul or memory, or even a story. In a way it masquerades as a shadow that could be a door to a dark black abyss. Now there's a 'happy' thought!

In my painting the yellow drone casts a shadow. The yellow tree-of-life casts one too. One shadow looks like an abyss - the other does not.

Droned Landscape - I imagine the landscape covered with sensors and targets. It's like a landscape overlay that obscures where the horizon and sky meet. Note the tree-of-life standing as a beacon, perhaps a guiding signpost - if we bother to look up from our various devices and see. 



Monday, July 18, 2016


 Scoped Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

As regular readers know I am researching militarised technology for my M. Phil thesis. I am examining how two Australian artists represent militarised technology, such as unmanned air vehicles [UAV], commonly called drones, and night vision capabilities, in their paintings. The thing is - I am inspired by the reading I've been doing as I research drones, night vision, just war theory, the development of autonomous weapons, robotising the military and law enforcement...and...existential risk. The latter is where my academic research sprang from. I've been very interested in existential risk posed by emerging technologies for a long time. So, whilst my research topic was stimulated by my private interests expressed in my paintings are not part of the academic research. It is not a practice-lead degree. However, at the end of the degree I will have a body of work, mainly works on paper, that will reflect the research focus and process.  

Military drones operate in the sky - surveillance, monitoring, targeting and attack - currently aided by a team of remote human operators, but perhaps autonomously operated in the future. The aerial aspect of their 'vision' or scoping both intrigues and horrifies me. 

For decades many of my paintings have taken the aerial perspective. I've played with it and hopefully extended it into the cosmos as my interests in cosmology drew me into the close and far distances of the universe. I've often said and written that I believe we need to develop skills in 'seeing' multiple perspectives [literal and metaphoric], even simultaneously. I now think we need to develop these skills ASAP. Why? Because, the verticality of threat imposes literal boundaries on perspective. It also imposes psychological boundaries of fear formed by power structures that in many ways are also formed by fear. 

It seems to me that as powerful nations threaten silently from above, terror leaks out horizontally across the land in random acts - the randomness undetectable from above [or anywhere] until its destructive aftermath bloodies the landscape. As terror's fear closes perspective down. trying to engage in conversation, where differing perspectives of life can be discussed, becomes almost impossible. 

Literal and metaphoric perspective are both threatened. 

 Eyes In The Sky Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

In these three paintings you can see how I have played with aerial perspective. I've embraced my love of landscape, especially seen from above, to help develop my ideas of drone scoping. I call it 'scoping' rather than 'vision' because, for example, the function of the multiple gorgon stare cameras fixed to a drone are not really seeing - rather their lens infrastructure compels them to 'scope'. The word 'vision' is far too expansive in its multiple meanings to reduce it to functions of surveillance and targeting - cameras to guns/missiles. The word 'vision' also anthropomorphises the drone in ways I that demand critical analysis.

Eyes In The Sky refers to the name often given to UAVs or drones ie: eyes in the sky. Well, are they eyes in the sky? In a sense they are, but if you think about the idea of scoping, then they become something else. I propose they become scopes in the sky - camera scopes - gun scopes. My painting makes fun of the idea of eyes in the sky. There's more to this painting, but I will leave that to you to think about.

Scoped plays with perspective - are you above the drones looking towards the landscape? Are you below the drones looking up at them. The green glow of night vision capabilities seems to enable you to see targets on the ground, but maybe you can also see the outlines of clouds and targets amongst them? The area between earth and drone flight paths is a potential battle 'field'. Ah ha...but what about the satellites that transmit messages between drones and their operators? How far does the potential combat zone extend?

New Shoots is a positive painting! Here I have included my much loved age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life to indicate that whilst life seems to be targeted, its roots will spread out 'underground' - and ultimately new shoots will thrive. The drone could either be 'read' as being airborne or crashed!

New Shoots Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016



Saturday, July 09, 2016


 Expanded Zones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I've had a productive time in the last week or so. I presented a paper at a Media Devices Symposium at the University of Queensland yesterday 8 July. My paper "Militarised 'Vision' Through the Eyes of Australian Artist George Gittoes" was received very well. The two days of the symposium were filled with enthralling, provocative and stimulating papers all related in various ways to technological devices. The photo at the bottom shows me presenting my paper. 

As regular readers know, I have had a long interest in technology, stemming from my father's enthusiasm for HAM radio and in his latter years, computer and digital technologies. I've previously written about my childhood growing up on a grain farm, not only surrounded by endless skies and distance, but also seemingly endless gadgets, aerials, communication devices in our cars [even in the 60s] etc etc. My mother's interests in art, history, writing and culture, coupled with my father's interests, have manifestly contributed to how I approach my art and research studies.

The Media Devices Symposium was incredibly stimulating not only intellectually but also creatively. The reading group I attended for the 5-6 months preceding the symposium has also been incredibly stimulating. Then... all the reading I've been doing for my research...especially looking into militarised technologies such as airborne drones and night vision capabilities...has also fueled my mind and my imagination. Some recent posts are:

Boundaries Zones and Perspectives 
In Focus 
Horizontal of Vertical?

The three paintings here in this post are all inspired by recent readings and research. Cloud Storage is the most recent painting. Each painting has a 'dark' side...

However, I prefer to only allude to the dark side, rather than thrust it forward. Why? Once a viewer realises that the innocuous appearance has a dark underbelly it becomes evident that the innocuousness is actually a partner in a dangerous subterfuge. Looking beyond the surface is always an interesting thing to do, and I suspect we may not do it enough.

 Cloud Storage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I am not going to write about each painting. However, generally speaking when I painted each image I was thinking variously about surveillance, war and conflict zones, remote access, privacy issues, interactivity, data collection, targeting, monitoring - AND LIFE! Aestheticising the unseen aspects of technology that influence so much of our lives gives me a kind of contrary joy! 

The paintings can be 'read' as landscapes too - cosmic, aerial, body-scapes...the distance of the rural Queensland landscape - the flat tree-less Pirrinuan Plain where I grew up -  is always present in my work.

I have already written that each painting has an underbelly, so I will leave the rest to you.  

Data Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Me presenting "Militarised Vision Through the Eyes of Australian Artist George Gittoes" at the mdeia device Symposium Univerity of Queensland 8 July 2016. Image on screen is Discarded oil on canvas 1995 by George Gittoes.

George Gittoes is having an exhibition "Night Vision" in Brisbane 27 July - 20 August, at Mitchell Fine Art Gallery, Arthur St, Fortitude Valley. The opening is Friday 29 July and there is an artit's talk the next day. Check the gallery site for details HERE

George Gittoes' webpage HERE


Sunday, July 03, 2016


Interregnum Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

This new painting is a response to the Australian federal elections held yesterday, July 2, 2016. Today we have no idea which party will govern. Therefore, we have no idea who will be our next Prime Minister. There is no clear winner and we are waiting for counting to be finalised. This may take a number of days. 

So, in the meantime we are in an interregnum....WHAT A GREAT WORD! 

I have well known media commentator Annabel Crabb to thank for introducing interregnum to me. In one of her twitter comments posted today [3 July] she tweeted So we are going to be without a government for stretch. I remember the comparable interregnum in 2010 being quite restful. 

Well, I had to look up what interregnum means a period of time when normal government is suspended, for example between reigns or as a result of a close election, possibly causing a hung parliament. For more information, if you are interested, click HERE.

So, here we have Australia, seemingly cut in half, each section suspended. Ribbon-like lines create both sections of the continent as well as part of the background. AND, embracing my penchant for 'playing' with perspective you, the viewer, could be in a number of places - in front of Australia, above, underneath, viewing a cross-section, maybe even sandwiched between. Yet, metaphoric perspectives also abound, depending on your personal choices, viewpoints and politics. 

Interregnum  is a landscape, one of my ambiguous scapes that not only speaks about landscape but also political scapes. If Australia looks dislocated, how does the rest of the world look? Well, with Brexit, the madness of US forthcoming elections, Middle Eastern catastrophes, and European social, political and economic dilemmas I'd say the whole world is somewhat dislocated. I'll have to paint it! In the meantime just imagine Blood Connection [below] cut in half and the two sections misaligned. 

The problem is, however, that no matter which Australian political party,  LNP or Labour, is able to form a government [most likely with the help of independents] then dislocation continues. This generates a feeling of suspension - no one likes to be kept hanging! But, what if it is a global pattern? How does anyone or any country/nation break away from a pattern that seems beyond control? If it is a pattern, what does it mean? 

I have a few thoughts...and I am sure you do too! 

Blood Connection oil on linen 80 x 140 cm 2011

Regular readers will know how I like to 'play' with the Australian continent, so my new painting will not be a surprise. Recent posts are: