Friday, September 30, 2016


Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I imagine a drone spiraling out of control. The cause - unknown - wind gusts, attack, hacking, electrical fault - who knows?

Yes, apparently military drones do crash. Check out this  article in the Washington Post 

But, of course, when they crash there is no crew to get hurt. The remote pilot is safely ensconced in his or her bunker, at home.

There is another thought - the drone as a symbol of civilisation's immanent dance on the edges of existence...? The drone has taken on symbolic tones, representing the cusp of human and non-human control, human controlled and autonomously controlled weapons of war. I imagine my drone in Drone Spiral spiraling in the space between!

Dark thoughts!

Apart from the dark thoughts this painting is another of my droned landscapes, where I attempt to conjure landscape as something untethered from normal concepts of landscape. Taking cosmological perspectives, I try to 'see' landscape in ways that may help address current and looming environmental issues. 

My entry into the $15,000 Redland Art Prize is a finalist! I take it to the gallery next week and later in the week winners are announced. The finalists are listed HERE 

My entry is Where There's Life There's.... I have used binary code, the tree-of-life and landscape, inhabiting a cosmic scape in an ambiguous universe [that's if you thing multi-universes exist!].

Where There's Life There's... Oil on linen 92 x 102 cm 2015


Saturday, September 24, 2016


Camouflage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

As regular readers know, I am currently an M. Phil candidate in the School of Communications and Arts at the University of Queensland. My degree is a research one, thus I spend a lot of time reading and writing. My research topic came out of my own work as an artist and now the research is feeding back into my work. My practice is not part of the degree as it is not a practice lead degree. However, by the time I finish it I will have a large body of work that will reflect the research trajectory. Part of my studies includes research into militarised technology, particularly night vision capabilities and unmanned air vehicles [UAV], commonly called drones. Hence, my predilection for drones in recent paintings.

The initial impetus for my research came from my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies ie: those technologies not yet fully developed or even embarked upon. Whilst risk might be small, the possible outcomes could be cataclysmic. Thus, the risk is worthy of attention. For instance, there is risk in the coupling of AI or AGI with the development of autonomous weapons. Voila! You have a reason for why I am studying militarised technology...

Camouflage is normally associated with military tactics-uniforms, colouration and patterning on vehicles, decoys, undercover work and so on. It is a tactic taken from nature where animals and some plants change in order not to be eaten by predators- think stick insects, for example. In a sense even trying to humanise AI is a kind of camouflage, albeit a tricky and potentially dangerous one. Just think of Ava in the recent movie Ex Machina. By making her human-like normal safety alerts and boundaries became vulnerable to erosion because humans emotionally connected with her.

Ideas of camouflage intersect with my very long interest in the tree-of-life, an age-old transcultural/religious symbol. Its branching appearance is repeated across life, land and the universe in seen and unseen forces and things. For example, think about our vascular system and river networks, think about leaves and ice flows on cold planets. I wonder if the tree holds clues to the template for the universe? Its repeating patterns are far more than mimicry or camouflage. 

I have painted the weaponised drone in Camouflage [above-detail below] the same colours as the two cascading trees-of-life to suggest a warning.  


This painting is another of my dronescapes. They represent a sub-theme of my quest to re-consider what landscape means in the 21 st century. I suggest we need to untether landscape from earth-bound horizons by launching ourselves into universal distances, where we can evaluate Earth and humanity from new and multiple perspectives. The droning of the landscape, where surveillance mechanisms and infrastructure proliferate, is just but one of my considerations. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016


 Aeropolitics Imagined Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

In the last week an article appeared in media outlets. It got my attention. 

The writer is David Wroe and he was reporting about a topic discussed at the recent Land Forces Conference in Adelaide. That topic - drones or unmanned vehicles. These can include unmanned land, sea, undersea and air vehicles. The article also reports on discussions about potential autonomy of these systems. It also reports on Australia's position, and fears that if we don't keep up with advancing technology, we will be left behind. It's a race - it seems. 

Regular readers will know why I am SO interested in various aspects of this article and the conference. Yes - drones, autonomous weapons, and Australian involvement in the development and deployment of these systems. Also - the accelerating international interest in unmanned and autonomous systems, and how war and conflict are being reframed y contemporary technology...and so on. I am also interested in the rhetoric and the language used by politicians, systems' developers and the military. 

As an artist and a painter I am interested in the changing landscape - literal and metaphoric. The use of airborne drones changes the way the sky and space are perceived as increasingly political and strategic. Dual-use systems blur the line between civilian benefit and military benefit. Does this mean that landscapes of land and sky hold insidious dichotomies that require vigilance - thus forcing the civilian to take some kind of war-footing preparedness? If surveillance penetrates all movement and terrain, built and natural, where can we hide?

In various books and articles cultural theorist Paul Virilio writes about aeropolitical repercussions of threat from the air. His theories of accelerating technological speed intersect in ways that are, I think, revelatory [if people pay attention]. Professor of spatial and visual cultures, Eyal Weizman writes about the 'verticality of threat' posed by airborne surveillance systems that can assist targeting and attack capabilities. Philosopher Gregoire Chamayou also writes very succinctly about aeropolitical issues associated with the airborne drone in his book Drone Theory. 

What If? Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

The two paintings above express a few of my responses to the plethora of material I have been reading. 

Aeropolitics Imagined plays with images of screen-based surveillance. The wide area surveillance systems used by militarised drones mean that remote operators/warfighters can focus, in real-time, onto one element of an image. They can then enlarge that particular spot, while keeping all other images and the environmental context in sight.

In Aeropolitics Imagined Australia seems to be the enlarged image, with scoping signals embracing the continent, perhaps readying for closer scrutiny and possible attack. However, there are other possibilities. Maybe Australia has deployed a system of surveillance and attack protection, similar to Israel's Drone Dome? The white 'signals' emanating from the continent could be deploying defensive positions. Maybe the drone is an Australian one - after all both the continent and the drone are painted red and green - they seem to reflect each other. If it is an Australian drone, what is its target? We are not privy to that information.

In What If? the continent of Australia is divided into sectors. A communications satellite and a GPS satellite hover. Two weaponised drones, one departing Australia and one seemingly arriving, are silhouetted against the Pacific Ocean. Drones currrently require connectivity with space-based assets in order to operate, and to send and receive data, hence the positioning of the satellites in What If?.

Similarly to Aeropolitics Imagined there are multiple possible readings for this painting. This is deliberate - and regular readers will not be surprised by this. 

The accelerating pace of developments in drone technology is both fascinating and scary. 

Civilian use of airborne drones can be beneficial in times of disaster, for agricultural management, for environmental surveillance and for many other uses.  Drone racing, and other recreational and sporting options are becoming more popular. These all require various regulations, but is legislation keeping up? 

The dual-use nature of the drone, however, means that its use in war and conflict zones, by multiple military, non-military, aberrant, state and non-state players, creates significant concerns and anxieties. 

On that 'happy' note....


Saturday, September 10, 2016


Regrowth Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I am very happy to report that my entry Where There's Life There's... is a finalist in the $15,000 Redland Art Award. This award is biennial. You can read more about it and see the list of finalists etc HERE I shall keep you up to date - winner announced 14 October. 

And, at the bottom of this post I have news about the Tattersall's Landscape Art Prize. 


As you can see I am still fixated on the figure of the drone - the drone in the landscape to be more precise. Both Regrowth and Drone Star  depict a drone with emanating signals that create a star-like appearance. These signals are representative of a drone's sensors which receive and transmit data. 

In Regrowth the drone's signals contrast with the emanating branches of the tree-of-life.  This age-old transcultural/religious symbol is the drone's target - for data and perhaps attack. The red box - kill box- around the lone tree indicates that it is a target. Yet, the tree defies the intrusion by sending down new roots. In my mind it acts subversively, but then again, having seen Australian bush regrowth, I know that where and when it can, life re-emerges. 

Drone Star plays with the viewer's sense of orientation. Are you above the drone looking down onto the ground or are you below the drone looking up to a sky. In either case the drone's signals have taken over, hijacked even, the landscape - skyscape. The vibrant colours act as a kind of camouflage sending a message of benign, or even fun, intent. But, is this really the case? 

As regular readers know, I have a delight in playing with perspective and orientation. The drone is giving me ample inspiration in so many ways. 

Here are links to some more of my recent DRONE paintings:

Drone Star Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016


And, here's the news on the Tattersall's $30,000 Landscape Art Prize. The winner was announced on Wednesday last week. AND, congratulations to Ann Thomson for her win with Breakwater. Highly Commended to Melissa Egan and Guy Warren, Commended to Margaret Loy Pula and Members' Choice Award to Michael McWilliams. The exhibition will continue from 12 September to 23 September at the Riverside Centre, 123 Eagle St, Brisbane. 

My entry Privileged Landscape? [below] received some great comments from people at the opening. 

 Privileged Landscape oil on linen 80 x 140 cm 2015

Sunday, September 04, 2016


Target Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Firstly let's start with some great news: 

 1. One of my entries has been selected as a finalist for the $15,000 Redland Art Award . Prizes will be announced on the 14th October and the exhibition continues until 27 November. 

2. My painting Privileged Landscape? is a finalist [by invitation] for the $30,000 Tattersall's Landscape Art Prize.   The prize is announced 7 September. The exhibition will be at the Tattersall's Club 5 - 9 September and then it re-locates to the Riverside Centre 12 - 23 September.

As regular readers know I have been thinking about unmanned air vehicles [UAVs], more commonly called drones. More particularly I am interested in the weaponised drone used for military and counterinsurgency purposes. These are operated by remote pilots. The system of operation relies on a vast amount of technology and connectivity eg: communication satellites, GPS satellites, ground based antenna systems and control stations. The drone, in flight, sits between space-based and ground assets, acting like a conduit or node. You can find more information about the connectivity required to operate a drone here.

But, the aim of the drone, or more precisely, the aim of those who deploy drones, is to target. It seems to me there are basically two types of targeting, one is to target via a drone's various surveillance sensors to gather information and data, the other is to target to kill. Obviously the first kind of targeting is related to the second type. However, as weapons become more autonomous, who or what develops aims for either type of targeting comes under scrutiny. Currently there is debate about the development of lethal autonomous weapons, with arguments that there must be meaningful human control - whatever that might mean. If you are not aware of these discussion a good start is the Future of Life Institute, especially the Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers which is displayed on their website. 

Gregoire Chamayou, in his book Drone Theory (2015) describes the drone as a “projectile-carrying machine” equipped with an “unblinking eye” that enables a “24 hour constant gaze” to undertake its “militarised manhunt”.1  

If you read more about militarised drones you will come across various other very blunt descriptions of them. 

                                      Remote Control Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

So, you might ask, how can Kathryn find inspiration in such a macabre subject? Well, I do! 

I think about the drone with my landscape painter's eyes and mind, creating what I call dronescapes. I think about it in relation to age-old symbols, such as my much loved transcultural/religious tree-of-life. I think about the drone in relation to my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. And, I think about it with my fascination for cosmology driving my attempts to use multiple perspectives to engage with it. Hence, my recent paintings, like the two above, juxtapose the figure of the drone with the tree-of-life, against backgrounds that appear to be cosmic landscapes. The tree, symbolises all life and existence. It also acts as a representation of systems, its branching appearance acting as a template for both human-made and natural ones. 

The armed drone seems to target the tree - my representation of the tree-of-life. Yet, the cosmic landscape indicates, perhaps, that this painting depicts something from another world of time and place. Maybe the tree targets the drone?

Remote Control
I have painted a satellite antenna, a ground-based control station, a communications satellite, a GPS satellite, an armed drone  - and - the target. Its a system and even though the tree-of-life is the target, it represents an alternative system. One of the trees is upside down. Whilst it is a tree, it also has a root-like appearance contained within a white circle. Does it mean new life? Is it a homage to past life? I don't know! What do you think?

1. Chamayou, Gregoire. Drone Theory, trans by Janet Lloyd (Penguin Books: London, 2015) 27, 32, 38.