Wednesday, February 28, 2018


 Details of Drones and Code: Future Now

 Drones and Code: Future Now Oil on linen 40 x 56 cm 2018

I have been preparing my presentation for the International Studies Association conference in San Francisco in April. I have been invited to speak about my own paintings on a panel called "War Art: Museums, Militarisation and Militantism". I have decided to speak about how I attempt to resist the creeping and insidious militarisation of imagination which, in turn, hijacks, infiltrates and colonises  both the present and the future.

I will be speaking about my use of cosmic perspectives, and my painterly invitations to fly around drones or indications of their presence. I will also talk about revealing invisible signals that connect nodes, such as satellites with airborne drones, with mobile phones, ground control stations, computers and more. I will discuss how I believe these signals create new layers of topography in the landscape, and how human movement and behaviour are altered to accommodate the persistent surveillance these topographies enable.

I will also speak about the medium of painting and its historical and operative distance from contemporary technology.Painting does not rely upon digital or cyber systems, software or algorithmic instruction for creation, exhibition and storage. This provides an independence from interconnected and potentially appropriated contemporary technological platforms. Rather than thinking of painting with a nostalgic turn, or with accusations of anachronism, I propose that painting by a human being, in humanly accessible dimensions of time and space, offers subversive agency in the digital and cyber age. That a painting can depict and critique contemporary technology, without actually needing it for creation, exhibition and storage, heightens this agency. This becomes more pointed when the visual critique focuses on contemporary militarised technologies, such as airborne drones, their persistent surveillance systems and increasingly autonomous capabilities.

I have uploaded detail shots of my painting Drones and Code: Future Now to give an idea of the painterly quality of the image. The background of the painting was created with random splashes of colourful paint. Over the top of this I painted drones and satellites. I did, however, wipe out the colourful paint to help create the dark continent of Australia. After painting this and the binary code 'instructing' LANDSCAPE around the coastline, I then added more colour to the background with deliberate placements of colourful dots. I wanted the Australian continent, at one instance to be seemingly set against a sea, and at another instance, set against the universe. This is an example of my love of the cosmic perspective - one that does provide the viewer with a freedom to fly - and to perhaps see things differently. I have uploaded a detail shot of my recent painting Drone Spiral 2 as another example of cosmic perspective, but also to focus on the paint.

Drone Spiral 2 oil on linen 120 x 160 cm 2018


Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Drones and Code: Future Now Oil on linen 40 x 56 cm 2018

Recently there have been articles* in Australian news outlets reporting on the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell's statements about Australia's preparedness for the future of war. This future is one characterised by advanced robotic technologies and the utilisation of artificial intelligence in a range of military and associated activities - eg; surveillance, data monitoring, battlefield support, targeting. 

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell seemed keen to re-enforce that robotic and autonomous systems would assist and support human soldiers. The participation by a human being in decision making loops is one of the hotly debated issues raised by the development of increasingly autonomous weapon systems. The Chief of the Army also expressed concerns about Australia's ability to keep up with foreign adversary capabilities; state, non-state and rogue. These concerns were also about Australia's ability to assist allied forces, as well as Australia's abilities to protect its land and people from less ethical forces.

I read the news articles, and a couple of things came to mind. I understand that defence forces compare their capabilities with those of other forces. In the contemporary case it seems the focus is on potential future capabilities, where emerging technologies, accelerating at a fast pace, offer marked strategic and tactical advantages. When a focus is on the future and comparing capabilities, do we have an arms race?  

My new painting Drones and Code: Future Now is an Australian landscape, seen from a cosmic vantage point. This cosmic vantage point could be both spatial and temporal. Is this landscape a contemporary one, or is it a future landscape? Surely, if military minds and imaginations can  project into the future, so can I? Indeed, one could argue that militarised imaginations pave a path into the future. In doing so they militarise the future too! Are we aware of this though? 

For me, the cosmic vantage point can help us think critically about the future and how rhetoric surrounding the 'future of war' affects humanity now, let alone in the future. The big cosmic picture offers multiple perspectives that can draw in the past, the present and the future, and even a more distant future than the one militarised imaginations have occupied. What does the far distant future call to us? Surely it is imperative to follow militarised imaginations into their future, and then to proceed beyond it, in order to gain a temporal perspectival advantage that might offer a new imaginary? If we can return from the far distant future, carrying our new imaginary, how would that affect life now?

In Drones and Code: Future Now the continent of Australia presents as a black hole, as if the land mass has fallen away from the universe. Is the continent real? Binary code, wrapped twice around the continent's edge, instructs LANDSCAPE: 01001100 01000001 01001110 01000100 01010011 01000011 01000001 01010000 01000101. This may indicate that the Australian continent is a simulation? Has physical landscape been replaced by virtual landscape? Or, is it a subterfuge, a continental camouflage designed to protect land and people? The presence of weaponised drones certainly suggests a contested environment. Three red drones depart Australia - have they achieved their mission or are they Australian drones offering protection? One dark drone moves toward Australia. Again, its intent is ambiguous. Does it represent a malign force or the return of an Australian drone from a battle of robots?

The presence of the satellites indicate the inter-connectivity of technological infrastructure and therefore, the insidious creep of militarising capabilities. They also demonstrate that the viewer [you] is hovering above them. Your vantage point is revelatory. The fact that two satellites and one drone are darkly painted, like the Australian continent, perhaps suggests further stealth, simulation, but also possible signs of annihilation. 

Drones and Code: Future Now is an ambiguous Australian landscape. If it is a future landscape it is necessarily ambiguous because speculation calls for ambiguity, but also provocation. It just depends on whether the painting presents a near future or a distant future - tomorrow, next year, a century away or a billion years? But, given the current rhetoric about 'future of war', debates about lethal autonomous weapons and the role of artificial intelligence, and research into existential risk posed by emerging technologies, maybe Drones and Code: Future Now is actually a contemporary landscape?

* Sydney Morning Herald
   The West Australian 

Center for the Study of the Drone, Bard College, New York interview with me Portfolio: Dronescapes by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

Recent visual essay "New Landscapes in the Drone Age" in Dialogue: Taking Politics Outside the Box [School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland]. In this essay I have a paragraph that discusses where my interest in technology comes from - hint: My Dad was a very keen HAM amateur radio operator. 


Saturday, February 10, 2018


Drone Spiral 2 Oil on linen 120 x 160 cm 2018

I have been working on Drone Spiral 2 [above] for some time. I started it last year. And, now I think it is finished. As you can see from the image below, this new painting relates to an earlier work on paper called Drone Spiral. This painting won the inaugural World of Drones Congress, Art Prize, held last year here in Brisbane. The organisers are gearing up for the WOD2018 congress

In my new painting I wanted the image to look like an overview of a new leafy suburb, with houses, gardens, parks etc. But, the houses are replaced with weaponised drones! I wanted a landscape-type appearance in order to generate questions about our Earthly environment generally. I also wanted to visually suggest that new technologies, such as unmanned surveillance and weaponised airborne drones, are changing landscapes and, thus, how we might operate and live in them. 

The spiraling appearance of the strip of droned landscape gives the impression of falling - but is it falling to Earth or away from Earth? Earth - here - being the pale blue dot! Also, maybe it depicts just one drone, demonstrating the different stages of falling - or - maybe there is a swarm of drones. If this is the case, maybe they are not falling, but in formation to optimise mission outcomes. 

Whether falling to or away from Earth, or on a mission, there is a sense of constant motion, even dizzying motion. This dizziness reflects the fast paced nature of drone technology development, including increasing advances in autonomous systems. Policy makers and lawyers are finding it difficult to respond to rapidly developing systems that impose potentially new impacts and risks on society and humanity.

The dizziness and sense of falling - to or from Earth - signifies that maybe we human beings are on a metaphoric precipice. As Lord Martin Rees wrote in his fascinating book Our Final Century  

I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century. Our choices and actions could ensure the perpetual future of life (not just on Earth, but perhaps far beyond it, too). Or in contrast, through malign intent, or through misadventure, twenty-first century technology could jeopardise life’s potential, foreclosing its human and posthuman future. What happens here on Earth, in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near eternity filled with ever more complex and subtle forms of life and one filled with nothing but base matter.

Martin Rees, Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century—On Earth and Beyond (New York: Basic Books, 2003) p.7-8

A plethora of thoughts tumbled through my head as I painted Drone Spiral 2. I do not have space to write about them all here - plus it would make for a long winded post. However, regular readers will identify that the viewer enjoys a cosmic perspective - my favourite perspective. The viewer is not caught in the spiral, but is, in fact, witnessing it. Have you fallen away from earth too or have you deliberately propelled yourself, in imagination, to a vantage point where you can turn the surveillance back onto the technology? 

What do you see? What do you dream? What to you imagine?

  • Drone Spiral 2 is another cosmic landscape, and a dronescape.
  • I've depicted a pale blue dot in many of my recent paintings. This references the famous photograph taken in 1990 by Voyager 1, as it started to leave our solar system. its camera was turned off soon after, to preserve energy as it departed on  its interstellar journey. Carl Sagan's sage words are an inspiration.

Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016


Friday, February 02, 2018


Various oil paintings in my studio aka: garage.

I have been busy in the studio and my office over the last months, and weeks. 

The photo above shows some of my recent oil paintings, done over the last 6-7 months - the one on the easel is underway. Since completing my Master of Philosophy [Art History & Cultural Studies], University of Queensland, I have returned to my oil paints - with gusto. While I undertook the degree I painted only on paper. I did this because a work on paper is easier to leave and come back to. [see photos of works on paper below].

As regular readers know, my academic research included examining the various legal, ethical and political issues surrounding contemporary militarised technology, particularly the airborne drone. Regular readers also know that I examined various technical aspects of weaponisable airborne drones - not a normal art historical approach! However, I believed this kind of research was very important. Why? To equip me with specific information to assist my visual analyses of paintings, that depicted aspects of contemporary militarised technology, by Australian artists George Gittoes and Jon Cattapan. 

The stimulus for my academic research came from my interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. When I was offered the post-graduate degree opportunity, I knew I wanted it to include a multi-disciplinary approach. I wanted a major part of my research to feed back into my studio practice - even though the degree was not a practice lead degree. The research into ethical, political and legal issues surrounding contemporary militarised technology is valuable, but the technical research into weaponisable airborne drones and their capabilities, has been pivotal.   

Preparing Powerpoint for presentation in San Francisco 

While I was at the University of Queensland [and I still am, as a Honorary Fellow in the School of Communications and Arts] I became involved in a fascinating and burgeoning research area in International Relations - Visual Politics. As a result of meeting many thoroughly interesting and knowledgeable people, I have been included in a few activities relating to Visual Politics. 

One exciting opportunity is being on a panel "War Art: Museums, Militarisation and Militantism" at the International Studies Association annual conference in San Francisco in April. The photo above is an image of my preparations for this conference. As I wrote in the first line of this post, I have been busy in my office too. 

There are a few other opportunities likely in New York and London - will keep you posted once I have details. 

 Various larger works on paper - Dronescapes

Various smaller works on paper - Dronescapes

In light of recent statements by the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, about Australia's readiness for increasingly autonomous weapon systems, and news about the Australian government's $3.8 billion underwriting to boost arms exports, I invite you to read a post I wrote in September 2016 Aeropolitics Imagined. This post includes two paintings of the Australian continent - and - drones. I will leave you to take a look!


  • Another article about my paintings has just been published, this time in The Culture Concept. Please read  Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox: Reach for the Sky: Art Above. The writer, Carolyn McDowell places my work into art historical contexts, but also draws out its contemporary relevance. Thank you The Culture Concept!

  • Early alert: Cosmological Landscapes solo exhibition at Dogwood Crossing, Miles, Queensland, Australia: 28 March - 22 May. It is well over two years since my submission was accepted and the show is nearly here! More news about the show coming soon. 
Cheers, Kathryn