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



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