Friday, May 25, 2018


Are you above the surveillance net, or below it?

Federica Caso recently published an essay "Visualising the Drone: War Art as Embodied Resistance" in E-International Relations. Caso is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland. She is completing a thesis on the body and the militarisation of western post-conscription societies. Her essay in E-International relations reflects on "ethical questions about the aestheticisation of violence and the anaesthetisation of publics." Caso's pivotal question is "How can artists represent war without reproducing it, without making war into a beautified spectacle for public consumption devoid of critique, and without militarising their body, work, and art?" She uses my dronescapes to grapple with this question. She goes onto say,  

       "Drones make warfare look surgical, clean, and as if there is nothing to see (Gregory,           2012). Against this backdrop, Brimblecombe-Fox has realised that it is paramount to             represent and uncover drone warfare in ways that reveal the invisible. Yet, not many public artists are in the business of doing so."

Caso identifies my quest to make visible the invisible aspects of drone operation. However, she digs deep into the question of making the invisible - visible. She notes that it "also encompass the realm of affective cognition, that is, the knowledge derived from the emotive responses of the body in the encounter with the other, human and non-human." She suggests that  "Art’s currency is emotions, and therefore it is a crucial site of affective cognition." She suggests my paintings provide an opportunity to encounter "the other, human and non-human" by providing a site/s where "affective cognition" is stimulated in ways that inform the viewer. Knowledge gained is not just the revelatory aspect of exposing the invisible, but also the the kind of knowledge gleaned by taking note of emotional responses. 

In this post I want to focus on one aspect of making visible the invisible operations of airborne militarised drones. This is the exposure of enabling invisible signals. These signals are those that are transmitted and received by a drone and its supporting operative infrastructure ie: nodes such as ground control stations, communication and GPS satellites, plus devices such as mobile phones, computers and so on. 

I 'see' these signals as layering new topographies across and into the landscape, a dimensional environment that now extends from land, into the sky and into space. Space Net and  Remote Control (below) are examples of how I imagine this extended 'landscape'. Exposure is a form of resistance.

Space Net Gouache n paper 56 x 76 cm (unframed) 2017

This extended dimension of landscape has a sense of volume, even a body. For me, this has been colonised and penetrated by the proliferation of signals that enable the operation of systems that are either militarised or militarisable. By militarisable, I mean the increasing dual-use military/civilian capabilities of contemporary technological platforms, such as space-based assets, mobile phone infrastructure, and digital and cyber systems. And, let us not forget accelerating developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.

Remote Control Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016

A landscape that is invisibly colonised by signals, enabling surveillance, monitoring and targeting, is worth critical attention. These types of activities cut across military, policing and security pursuits, therefore highlighting the increasing blurred lines between civilian and military use of technological infrastructure. Additionally malign or aberrant state or non-state actors can also conscript, by mal-intent, the same infrastructure. I 'see' a problem! 

Of course, in some parts of the world the impact of the invisible is already keenly felt eg; Yemen, Northern Pakistan, Afghanistan and others. There are arguments that a drone strike is 'surgically' targeted, but the knowledge that 'flying watchtowers' (Chamayou), with long range and long dwell capabilities, lurk in skies above, creates a constant fear for all who live under those skies.

If you are remote from places where drones loiter in skies above, the problem of a landscape invisibly occupied by netted signals also seems remote. But, the threat to human life and wellbeing is clearly demonstrated in countries where drone surveillance and strikes occur. That people anywhere on Earth are afraid of what the sky might harbour, is an indictment on all of humanity. Think about it - as  Voyager 1  travels beyond our solar system, at the same time we have people on Earth who are afraid of the sky! This defies enlightened sense.

What if an invisibly occupied, penetrated and colonised landscape posed an existential threat to all of humanity? Would you/ we pay more attention?

 Drone Star Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016

 Droned Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016
Are you 'flying' above the drones landscape, or are you below the droned sky. Or, is this a cross section of landscape, demonstrating a subterranean occupation as well?

Drone Zones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm (unframed) 2016
Will the space between land and space be zoned? Who or what will have jurisdiction? Will there be new types of ownership titles?


In my dronescapes I use cosmic perspectives to expose signals, technological connectivity and the new nets that crisscross landscape - the extended environment from land, to sky, to space. I visually propose that these signals, while layering new topographies over the landscape, can also mimic landscape elements, such as stars, the rays of the sun and clouds. 

The cosmic perspective, though, allows you to fly around drones or indications of their presence, thus turning the human gaze [in imagination-a dynamic form of vision] back onto the drones. In many of the paintings, you are unsure whether you are above or below the drones, or indication of their presence ie: signals. 

I could write more - but this post is already too long. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

Please take a look at my DRONESCAPES page for more about my process - and - thinking. Oh! - and - more paintings!

1. These resources attest to fear of the sky:
The Atlantic article  reporting on thirteen year old Pakistani boy Zabair's experiences. 

Atef Abu Saif's book The Drone Eats With Me: Diaries from a City Under Fire



Saturday, May 12, 2018


Data Heaven Oil on linen 100 x 120 cm 2017

I painted Data Heaven last year. I present it to you as a landscape, cosmicscape, dronescape, datascape, futurescape, codescape!

At the centre of the square, in the centre of the cloud, binary code ‘instructs’ the word DATA. The fifth line of code, ‘instructing’ the letter D, indicates algorithmic continuity. The cloud looks like an eye, with DATA as its ‘pupil’. I am playing with ideas relating to THE CLOUD, big data and humanity’s increasing reliance on digital and cyber technologies. That we can exist virtually across multiple technological platforms/systems while alive is one thing, but that this virtual existence can continue after mortal death, is indicative of  -  DATA Heaven, or perhaps - DATA Hell?

The white cloud-eye is surrounded by fiery ‘lashes’ that lick the cosmos. Is the fire destructive or a symbol of renewal? The binary code is painted white, like the cloud, to reveal subterfuge – DATA is used for scoping, surveillance and targeting purposes. The code is positioned at the centre of red cross-hairs to indicate the replacement of human sight/vision by algorithms, scoping for targets – to sell something to – or to kill. Here, the cloud becomes a visual metaphor for the airborne weaponised drone, its persistent surveillance and increasingly autonomous capabilities.

I am particularly interested in making a critical comment about the use of 'vision' as a word to describe machine imaging technology. In a few of my recent paintings I play with images that look like an eye, but on closer inspection are not really eyes. To ascribe a machine, no matter how advanced, with powers of vision, reduces human capacities of vision - in it broadest sense ie: not only seeing with eye-ball and pupil, but also with a mind's eye/imagination, in dreams, and visionary thinking. A scoping machine, such as a drone, cannot imagine, dream or generate visionary thoughts/thinking. Let's not give away human capacities that may actually be useful for us in the future! Relinquishing them too soon, and normalising things like machine vision - for me - poses an existential risk [can you 'see' this too?].

Data Heaven? poses questions about the future of humanity – its mortal and digital existence.


After winding down from my wonderful trip overseas, I have returned to the studio. The photo shows me preparing the early stages of a painting. And, there's Data Heaven in the back of the studio. Another new painting sits on the desk to the right. 

Please read about my trip, speaking engagements, conferences etc in my last post: Please click on the heading below.


Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox  Studio 


Saturday, May 05, 2018


Presenting my talk at the international Studies Association annual conference in San Francisco. 

I have just returned from my month long trip from Brisbane, to San Francisco, to new York, to Cambridge and London and home via Hong Kong. I did not post while I was away - the first time I have missed even one week, let alone four, in nearly twelve years!

Happy to report that my presentation at the International Studies Association annual conference, San Francisco, was received very well. I was asked to speak about my paintings - my dronescapes - how they resist the insidious [and no so insidious] infiltration of militaristion into everyday life, imagination and the future.  

This conference was a massive one. Every session I went to was stimulating. An array of different topics, approaches, and people from around the world. 

Happy to also report that my presentation at Goldsmiths, University of London, was also well received. Dr. Claire Reddleman and Dr. Elke Schwartz also spoke. I was asked to speak about my work in reference to issues relating to new landscapes/topographies and drone vision. 

A highlight of the trip was attending the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge, annual conference. This was a small conference and I was delighted to be invited to attend. It was two days of fascinating presentations and participatory workshops. The focus was on thinking about strategies to help inform the broader community, policy makers, governments and corporations about existential risk ie: often considered low probability, but high impact events that could cause human species demise or civilisation collapse. Regular readers will know why I was so pleased to attend this conference - I have been interested in existential risk posed by emerging technologies for many years. Ideas associated with existential risk have informed both my creative practice and academic research.

Presenting my talk at the international Studies Association annual conference in San Francisco. 

Presenting at Goldsmiths, University of London

In both my talks I questioned the term vision and its application to a machine. I asked, are we relinquishing human vision before we understand the ramifications of doing so? I couched this in reference to vision as an expansive human capacity ie: not only seeing with eye-ball and pupil, but also with our mind's eye/imagination, in dreams and visionary thinking. I argued that a drone cannot dream nor imagine, rather a drone's imaging technology gives it scoping capabilities, not vision capabilities. Are we exposing ourselves to risk by ascribing human capabilities to drones [and other machines, no matter how advanced they are]? 

My way of countering this reduction of vision is to invite people to 'fly' around the drones, or indications of their presence, in my paintings. The cosmic perspective allows for some considerable soaring! Thus, human vision, in all its capacities, is turned back upon the drones........a radical surveillance. 

The poster advertising the talk at Goldsmiths, University of London

 View out the window at a workshop for the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge. Jesus College courtyard.

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk conference dinner at Jesus College, Cambridge. 


There were many high points during the trip. One was visiting Forensic Architecture's exhibition Counter Investigations at the Institute of Contemporary Art [ICA], London. I used some of Forensic Architecture's ideas in my M. Phil thesis, particularly in my visual analysis of, Australian artist, Jon Cattapan's paintings. Their Lexicon was very useful for a variety of reasons. So, I was very keen to see Forensic Archicture's work at the ICA. I spent hours at the exhibition. A few days after seeing the show, Forensic Architecture was nominated for the Turner Prize. 

Forensic Architecture is a research group at Goldsmiths, University of London. They investigate sites of atrocity, war crimes, human rights violations and more. They gather a plethora of evidentiary material, which they then piece together. This evidence is presented in layered visual formats, often further overlaid with audio material. Comparative analyses of sounds, photographs, shapes in imagery, timelines, satellite imagery, trajectories of bullets, and more, are provided by computer generated tools presented as visual graphics that provide another visual layer. The outcome is a reconstruction of a site or an event - relived, but also explained. Forensic Architecture's work is complex and compelling, visually/aesthetically, and as evidence. This evidence is used in legal and human rights arenas. Additionally the group exhibits their work in art exhibitions. The bridging between seemingly different worlds is extraordinary. For me, their Lexicon  provides clues to this success. It demonstrates creative thought and the depth of their research - and - thus, the precision of their evidence. As art, it is meaningful.

 Me at Forensic Architecture's exhibition Counter Investigations at the ICA, London.

I will write more about the trip in my next post: 

  • The ballet Manon at the Royal Opera House, London.
  • Visiting Bletchley, the secret WW 2 code breaking site half an hour out of London. 
  • Visiting the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, New York.
  • The Imperial War Museum, London, and the special exhibition Art in the Age of Terror
  • Revisiting the National Gallery, London
  • Revisiting the marvelous Frick Museum, New York
  • And More!