Thursday, January 18, 2018


Fig 1. Beautiful One Day: Unreal the Next Oil on canvas 30 x 40 cm 2018


I was thrilled to be asked to write a visual essay for Dialogue: Taking Politics Outside the Box, an e-journal located in the School of Political Science and International Relations, University of Queensland. Excited to say that New Landscapes in the Drone Age was published this week.


The new landscapes I refer to in my visual essay [mentioned above] are not just those of the land, but also the sky and space. In the drone age, in some places around the world, the sky is colonised by loitering drones -  nodes-in-the-sky, not eyes-in-the-sky - and the invisible signals they receive and transmit, to and from land and space-based assets. That airborne drones can, in many instances, quickly turn from surveillance to attack mode, makes the sky a militarised contestable place, a potential battle-space that extends from land, into the atmosphere and beyond. 

Fig 2. New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Drone Swarms 

Recent developments in drone swarming technology* multiplies the impact of the scoping nature of drones. Technologists, roboticists, AI developers, and others associated with drone and autonomous systems research, study animals, such as birds and bees, to examine swarming and group behaviour. Nature provides insights, and researchers, using algorithmic processes, attempt to create systems that mimic nature's characteristics. Machine learning means that more advanced robots/systems can also learn as they interact with each other and 'experience' the world around them. Airborne drones are essentially flying robots, with increasingly autonomous systems embedded into their various functions.

I am interested in how landscape is mediated by drones and their invisible signals. I write about this in my visual essay New Landscape in the Drone Age. In this post, however, I focus on drone swarms, and the potential mediation of the skyscape.

The recently released short 7 minute film Slaughterbots presents a future where swarms of autonomous micro drones are used to control populations. Whilst fictional, it is stressed at the end of the film, that we already have the technology to create these deadly things - it is just a matter of time. Please read my visual essay A Droned Future response to Slaughterbots.  

So - to clouds.

Beautiful One Day: Unreal the Next [Fig 1] is a painting of clouds. Or is it? Positioned with some of my other recent paintings, the clouds may not be clouds at all! In New Clouds [Fig 2] and Swarm Clouds Brewing [Fig 3] you can see why. In these two paintings drone swarms attempt to mimic clouds. They camouflage themselves by mimicking nature, not only in swarm operation, but also in the subtleties of subterfuge and survival. 

But, you, the viewer, might be above the drone swarm-clouds, or you may be below them - maybe both places at once! Anything is possible in a quantum world. Your human vision, taking imaginational cosmic perspectives, turns the surveillance back onto the scoping camouflaged drones! Their subterfuge is revealed - exposed.

However, in New Clouds [Fig 2] one drone is targeted and attacked in a fiery blaze. This event leaves its mark on the skyscape. But, the significance of drone swarming technology is - if one drone is 'taken out', the others can re-calibrate and continue on their mission - whatever that may be. Therefore, taking one out seems futile...

False clouds?

So returning to Beautiful One Day, Unreal the Next [Fig 1]. The title of the painting plays with you...unreal could mean literally not real, or totally UNREAL-AMAZING-FANTASTIC-AWESOME! 

Maybe it means both? The game of disguise, camouflage, subterfuge working well...

[Fig 3] Swarm Clouds Brewing Oil on Canvas 36 x 45 cm 2017 

I am also interested in how clouds are used as a descriptive metaphor for THE CLOUD, which is not actually a singular entity, but rather, a series of mammoth data storage and processing systems - super computers. These systems built from physical hardware are, in fact, not housed in vapor, but in solid bricks and mortar behemoth buildings. 

But, that's another story, for another day!


* If you are keen to know more about drone swarming technology, just google it. There is a lot of information.

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