Saturday, October 29, 2016


 Between Existences Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Sometimes I feel the contemporary time in which we live is actually a 'between-time'. It's like humanity is on the edge of one kind of existence and another kind of existence. The thing is -what if  humanity is ultimately not part of this other kind of existence? could be. I suggest it depends on how we navigate the contemporary space-time, the Antropocene. With my M. Phil research covering militarised technology, the development of autonomous weapons and current warfare and conflict, I am somewhat anxious about humanity's future. 

Lord Astronomer, cosmologist and one of the three founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk [University of Cambridge], Martin Rees, wrote a fascinating book Our Final Century  in 2003. It proposes a number of catastrophic events that could cause civilisation collapse or even the annihilation of the human species. These events are not necessarily naturally occurring ones. They include events that might ensue from human-made emerging technologies, - due to mistakes, accidents, getting into the hands of aberrant groups or individuals. 


Between Existences [above] is a hopeful painting! The tree of life stands as a beacon in a cosmic landscape. The blue river-like mass could be the 21st century - a space between, a hiatus in human development, a touch-and-go period, a challenge. 

BUT, the tree has sent its roots deep into time...they even extend beyond the painting, digging deep. There's hope for root suckers - root sprouts to revitalise existence!  Yet, the blue river-like '21st century' also extends beyond the painting's edges. It also has root-like extensions...maybe they extend into other universes?  I'll let your imagination 'fly' now....

Trees-of-Life Vs The Drones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Trees-of-Life Vs The Drones is similar to Between Existences in format - there is a top half and a bottom one too...a representation of a duality eg: humanity - technology, life - death, symbolism - fashion, reality - virtuality, time - space, civilian - military, war - peace. Yet, in this 'between time' of the 21st century dualities are blurred. Cultural theorist, Paul Virilio's commentary, on the accelerating speeds of technological interactivity provides avenues to help us understand this blurring. With time and distance collapsed into near light-speed connectivity, dualities disappear, become unnoticeable - creating an inertia. Philosopher, Gregorie Chamayou's proposal that remote targeting and killing makes the whole world a potential manhunting ground certainly illustrates the blurring [hey! eradication] of the lines between things. Anthropologist, Hugh Gusterson's ideas about 'remixed war', as a result of militarised technology distributed through global networks that allow remote control and killing, exemplifies the collapse of the civilian - military divide. There's more...but I'll leave you to explore.

In Trees-of-Life Vs The Drones the weaponised drones look like an early computer game, little icons marching forward. The trees-of-life stand firm, their branches acting as an alternative network, outside the digital network connecting the drones. Note that there are two trees! AND, their roots are not evident - but they are there! I know, because I am the artist!


Thursday, October 20, 2016


The Tree-of-Life Sends its Energy Underground Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Here, I have two paintings where the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life stands as a beacon in landscapes that are threatened. Indeed, life is threatened. Unmanned air vehicles [UAVs] or drones loiter in dark skies. These Reaper drones are each armed with four hellfire missiles and two guided missiles.

My last post talked about the sky becoming a contested place...a place where surveillance and attack threats from above create an artificial sky. It is a sky to be where distance has collapsed and access to the beauty of cosmological perspectives is obscured. Here, in this post I offer the tree-of-life as a symbol of hope. It is a symbol which is shared by many cultures and religions, including the three Abrahamaic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Now, that's something to think about!

The tree-of-life can connect to hearts and minds. I experienced its powerful ability to connect when I had an exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Centre, [UAE] in 2006*. People from all over the region came to see the show. On a daily basis I had the most incredible conversations - all triggered by my paintings, particularly those that depicted the tree-of-life. These conversation I call 'agenda-less, but not directionless'. 

I suggest the power of age-old symbols is still fervent but, especially in the West, we have lost our connections to them. We prefer the transience of  fads and fashion delivered via gadgets and our peril!

In these two paintings, The Tree-of-Life Sends Its Energy Underground and Fragmented, the trees-of-life, representing all life, are vulnerable to attack. The drones certainly seem to be targeting them. Yet, the trees have scattered their seeds, sap and embedded their roots across the landscape. Potential new trees hibernate in wait, laying dormant until it is safe. The landscapes seem ripe, fiery and fertile, ready to re-charge. Yet... do these paintings offer alternative views? Indeed, the trees could be 'wounded', close to death, their 'blood' seeping into the landscape. Maybe? 

Do these paintings herald catastrophe or do they herald hope? 

Fragmented Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

* I have previously written about my Abu Dhabi experience: Here are two posts:


This LINK takes you to a page where you can see pictures of all the finalist paintings, including mine Where There's Life There's...


Sunday, October 16, 2016


Rainbow Camouflage Gouache on paper 30 x 42cm 2016

Firstly news - my entry Where There's Life There's... was chosen as a finalist in the $15,000 Redland Art Award. It is amongst some other terrific work. The opening and the announcement of winners was a few days ago. Congratulations to the winner, Pollyxenai Joannou. 

Rainbow Camouflage and Drone Clouds both refer to natural phenomena we see in the sky: clouds and rainbows. They also refer to the figure of the drone, a human-made 'phenomena'. I am really interested in how the figure of the drone is changing, and will continue to change, human perceptions of the sky and landscape. The figure of the drone literally represents unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). It also symbolises pervasive surveillance of our physical and digital actions and activities. For those who live in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other conflict places, the sky has become something to fear. Why? Because, drones loiter - watching - tracking - attacking. 

The posse of drones each painted with a colour from the rainbow are enroute to surveil and perhaps attack the the arced rainbow on the horizon. They are armed with Hellfire and guided missiles. The drones are camouflaged in an attempt to dupe the rainbow, but will they? But...maybe the rainbow is enticing the drones into a trap? The rainbow is fortified with the presence of trees-of-life, each painted a colour of the rainbow. The rainbow, of course can disappear, but its essence remains in the trees-of-life. What does this mean for the posse of rainbow coloured drones, representing 21st century fast paced and ubiquitous technological development, surveillance and more? I suppose that depends on us!

Is this a landscape or a skyscape? The sky is an arena of contest!

When I painted this painting lots of thoughts were running around in my head. But, I'll let your imaginations take flight now!

Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Clouds was inspired by thinking about the increasing use of drones and how they create a kind of artificial 'ceiling' in the sky. This can be viewed as both a literal and a psychological 'ceiling'. If we develop a fearful mentality that the sky is a place of threat what happens to the beauty of cosmological perspectives? Regular readers know I have a fascination with cosmology, and the close and far distances it reveals. Threat from the sky is something that limits a fearless desire to look beyond horizons, Earthly ones  as well as universal ones. 

Eyal Weizman, an architect and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College, London, writes about the Politics of Verticality  and threats from the sky, in the form of surveillance and air attack. Here's a telling quote These eyes in the sky, completing the network of observation that is woven throughout the ground, finally iron out the folded surface and flatten the terrain. From the air, everything can be watched – if you have the right kind of access.( Weizmann, 2002)

Drone Clouds, like many of my recent paintingswas also partly inspired by reading French Philosopher Gregoire Chamayou's fascinating book Drone Theory. The threat from above, represented by drones controlled and operated by remote pilots, makes the whole world a potential "hunting ground". The rhetoric around the development of autonomous weapons, makes the threat even more alarming. 

I wonder what becomes of landscape if the world is perceived as a "hunting ground"? If perceptions of the sky change, landscape changes, distance loses perspective, horizons become sublime -filled with hope and horror, that is... if they can be glimpsed through hooded eyes. Does the underground offer safety - maybe not? Maybe exodus to other planets is another escape route?

As regular readers know I am interested in untethering notions of landscape from Earth-bound horizons, to embrace the perspectives that cosmology offers. I suggest that these kinds of multiple perspectives of distance provide ways to evaluate humankind's place in the universe, to critique activities such as the militarisation of technology and more. 

In Drone Clouds I play with perspective. Is the viewer below the drones looking up, or are they above the drones looking down? If it is the latter maybe the viewer is an alien watching humankind's dangerous play? Or, maybe humankind has developed another layer of surveillance - good or bad? Or...?


Sunday, October 09, 2016


The Edge Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

I don't know about you, but I feel humanity is situated on the edge of the next revolution...a tech revolution. It could be an exciting future. But, then again, it may not be. 

Artificial intelligence is one of main areas of technological development where people are putting efforts into safeguarding benefit to humanity perspectives. The fact that emphasis is placed on benefit to humanity means there is a downside...where developments could be detrimental to humanity. Multi-disciplinary research centres like the Future of Humanity Institute [FHI]at Oxford University, the Center of the Study of Existential Risk [CSER}at Cambridge University and the more loosely formed Future of Life Institute [Boston] [FLI] all have initiatives to conduct research into AI and AGI [artificial general intelligence ie: expansive human-like intelligence rather than task oriented] where benefit to humanity is the key driver. Then there is the recently formed Partnership on AI: to benefit people and society . The partnership is Amazon, Deep Mind, Google, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft. 

So, there are a couple of things to think about. One is the importance technology and AI developers are placing on benefit to humanity issues. The downside is acknowledged risk, which whilst small maybe irredeemable. Here, I quote from the CSER website The field of artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly along a range of fronts and while it promises tremendous benefits, a growing body of experts within and outside the field has raised concerns that future developments may represent a major technological risk. With the level of power, autonomy, and generality of AI expected to increase in coming years and decades, forward planning and research to avoid unexpected catastrophic consequences is essential.

Another thing to think about is - money. Beneficial AI will be lucrative for some, hopefully for many. Taking risks that might see the human species incapacitated in some way or worse, potentially annihilated, is not good business! There is a financial benefit in keeping AI beneficial to humans! This, of course, erupts into a whole set of other issues concerning equitable distribution and access, monopoly players, private vs public and more. Then there are questions about how legal frameworks will keep up with the ramifications of AI, AGI, autonomous weapons etc. The law is not noted for being a fast paced institution. Will it be left behind? Will AI replace practitioners and the judiciary? How can those who think about potential legal issues eg: law academics and legislators, keep up?

My painting The Edge 'speaks' to all the issues I've written about...and more. Regular readers will know of my keen interest in the development of lethal autonomous weapons [LAWS]. This kind of development is a specific case of AI being used in ways that could pose major risks. These are not just mortal risks, but also risks that will erode what it means to be human, what it means to live in community, erosion of ideas about society and civilisation. I draw your attention to an Open Letter published on the FLI website Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter form AI and Robotics Researchers

In The Edge I have used the figure of the armed drone. Six of them are half emerged from under something...they appear to be on the edge of emergence, ready and able to seek with their wide area surveillance systems and weapons. The drone is becoming a symbol of 21st century Western power and might, a symbol of a threshold in technological prowess where machines may be equipped with an autonomy that takes us into a scifi future. The symbol of the drone is, of course, a contested one. In parts of the world experiencing the outcomes of drone attacks, the drone is a symbol of inhumanity. 

In the painting, I quite like how the drones seem to be entering an abyss-like place. It seems to fall away from the foreground. It's like the drones have fallen off the edge of a ravine or cliff - rather than emerging from something? Yet, it may not be all bad! Maybe these drones are keeping Earth safe from alien attack? Maybe they are stationed in space? Maybe the 'landscape' is a cosmic one, rather than an Earthly one? The paint has created the 'scape' seemingly on its own.