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 land, sea, undersea and air unmanned vehicles. The article also reports on discussion about potential autonomy of these systems. It also reports on Australia's position and fears that if we don't keep up with the technology, we'll 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, Australian involvement in development and deployment of these systems, the accelerating international interest in unmanned and autonomous systems, how war and conflict are being reframed 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 target and attack. 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 drones mean that remote operators can focus, in real-time, onto one element of an image. They can then enlarge that particular spot, while keeping all other images and environental context in sight. In Aeropolitics Imagined Australia seems to be the enlarged image, with scoping signals embracing the continent, 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 drones, one departing Australia and one seemingly arriving are silhouetted against the Pacific Ocean. The drone requires connectivity with space-based assets in order to operate, and to send and receive data. Similarly to Aeropolitics Imagined there are multiple possible readings for this painting. This is deliberate - regular readers will not be surprised by this. 

The accelerating pace of drone technology development is both fascinating and somewhat 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 parties that could include non-military players, creates concerns and anxieties. 

On that 'happy' note....


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