Monday, July 23, 2018


 Code Empire Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

I have not been painting for the last few weeks as I have been writing essays, proposals and articles. And, I still have one more proposal to write. However, as I think and write, ideas emerge or become clearer.

One of these is the idea that we are held hostage by invisible nets of signals that enable technological inter-connectivity. For example, signals sent via radio waves and microwaves enable connectivity between ground-based nodes, air-based and space-based assets. As I have previously written, I see these signals as a new kind of occupation of landscape, a new kind of colonisation that extends from land into space.* Coupled with undersea and subterranean cabling, a matrix of signalling infrastructure extending from below the Earth's surface into space is either obscured or invisible.

Increasing dual-use capabilities of contemporary technology mean signals are militarised or are potentially militarisable, by state and non-state actors. That signals also enable a constant ever-readiness for offensive and defensive actions places the world in a constant state of preparedness for war. One could argue that this is actually an insidious siege by stealth - a hostage situation.


We are the hostages.

* Selected list of previous posts.
Occupied Landscape: Everywhere
Persistent Readiness
Exposing the Invisible

I will be thinking more about the idea of hostage.

The paintings in this post have been completed since 2016. But, I see now, that my ideas about new invisible netted landscapes and the foreclosure of perspective, disclose an environment ready for taking and holding hostages.

Forever Watched Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

The title Forever Watched clearly indicates a hostage-like scenario. I have painted lines that emanate from an obscured source. These lines encircle a group of people. While the spotlit appearance mimics beams of light, maybe from the sun, or maybe from a stage spotlight, the cage-like encirclement of the people indicates something more sinister. Is an obscured airborne drone surveilling or targeting the people?  

 The New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

In The New Clouds I have painted swarms of drones, 'camouflaged' as clouds. One drone has been 'taken out', but swarm technology allows for groups to re-calibrate and continue their missions. Swarming technology is less reliant on signal connectivity with communication and GPS satellites, thus making jamming and hacking more difficult. However, inter-connectivity is still a characteristic, including within the swarm. Thus, the concept of netting is transferable from one place to another. 

In The New Clouds, the viewer could be below the drones looking up, or above the drones looking down. Either way a hostage situation is apparent - the viewer could be a  hostage, or an observer of a hostage situation. 

Or, as the painting provides oscillating perspectives, the viewer could be both hostage and observer. What will you do?

 Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape Oil on linen 60 x 110 cm 2017

In Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape the viewer can again be under the clouds or above them, or in both places as once. The red and green signals clearly net the landscape. Has the sky fallen, like a cage, foreclosing perspective, literal and metaphoric?

This same question could be asked about Wide Area Surveillance [Below]. New layers of landscape, formed by signals emanating from a drone, cast a net that extends beyond the edges of the painting into the wider environment. By making visible, the invisible signals that enable digital and cyber connectivity, I attempt to reveal a creeping foreclosure of perspective - a 21st century hostage situation. 

Wide Area Surveillance Gouache on paper 14 x 24 cm 2016


Saturday, July 14, 2018


21st Century Cloud Fantasy Oil on canvas 76 x 76 cm 2017 

The Cloud is a term used for the storage of data on remote servers housed in bricks and mortar buildings. The data is delivered and accessed via the internet. The Cloud is not a vapourous fantastical storage system. Rather, it consists of physical structures that have enormous energy needs to power servers and to keep ambient environments cool enough for their maximal operation. In his 2015 book A Prehistory of the Cloud Tung-Hui Hu describes The Cloud as a 'cultural fantasy'. (1) He also notes that cloud computing is a 'way of turning millions of computers and networks into a single, extremely abstract idea: “the cloud.”'(2)  Hu argues that The Cloud builds on older ways to wield power, and therefore militarising precedents are inherent in systems now dominated by speed and ubiquitous inter-connectivity. I highly recommend Hu's book to you.

The 'take-out' here is inter-connectivity, deployed through physical cabling, or wireless transmission ie: signals travelling via subterranean,undersea and sometimes above ground conduits, as well as via radio frequencies/waves on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Regular readers will know of my interest in revealing signals that ricochet around the world, between nodes positioned on land, in the sky and in space. I 'see' these signals as occupiers, even colonisers, of a volumetric environment extending from Earth, into the biosphere and beyond to geostationary and low Earth orbit.* In this way signals create new netted and potentially dense topographies across and in the landscape. I am particularly interested in how the increasingly dual-use nature of interconnected digital and cyber systems predisposes landscape, new and old, to processes of militarisation.

One aspect of this militarisation is that interconnected systems allow for a constant state of readiness for offensive and defensive activities, in other words, readiness for war. Things like the manipulation of elections, cyber attacks and the generation of fake news could be considered characteristics of 21st century war - maybe not outright war - but certainly barbed provocations. If we live in an era of ever-readiness for war, does that make us hostages? Do cultural fantasies obscure grim realities? These topics are for another post.

1. Tung Hui-Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud ,Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2015, XXIV.
2. Ibid., XXVI.

* I have written about the occupation of landscape by signals quite a lot. Here is a link toe a recent post Occupied Landscape: Everywhere

**I thank Dr. Christine Agius, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia for stimulating my thoughts about how my work might reveal invisible aspects of an ever-present readiness for war. Hopefully, we will be building on the topic in the future - shall keep you posted!

 Fake Tree Oil on linen 25 x 35 cm 2017

The paintings I have included in this post each 'speak' to aspects of ever-readiness for war. 21st Century Cloud Fantasy [top] positions the pale blue dot, aka Earth, a the center of radiating lines and funneling night vision green clouds. Here, I am playing with ideas of ubiquitous surveillance...and more. In Fake Tree the tree's shadow is not real, and binary code 'instructing' FAKE TREE forms a fake horizon. Cloud Storage plays on the fantasy of digital vapour! And, Persistent Situational Awareness draws attention to always being aware of where you are, especially in tumultuous times, especially if you are a hostage.

 Cloud Storage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Persistent Situational Awareness Oil on linen 100 x 70 cm 2017


Thursday, July 05, 2018


Drone Life: Shadow Play Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Regular readers will know of my interest in risk, particularly existential or catastrophic risk posed by emerging technologies. I attended the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, (CSER) University of Cambridge, annual conference in April this year and heard many interesting speakers. I've read numerous articles and books about the topic. This week, on Monday, I attended a AI and Security masterclass hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra, Australia. Again an array of highly regarded, informed and interesting speakers. While they did not directly speak to ideas of existential risk, risk identification and mitigation were overriding themes.

Regular readers also know that I have a particular interest in airborne militarised drones, persistent surveillance, and debates around increasingly autonomous weapon systems. Risks are obvious, through mal-intent, mistake, unintended consequences and other misadventure. These risks can be driven by state and non state actors, groups and individuals. This post posits that there is a risk attached to human tendencies to anthropomorphise technology.

But, apart from the obvious risks associated with the technology, are there other nuanced or silent contributors that might make risk more probable. Here, I am thinking of an approach Karin Kuhlemann (University College, London) talked about at the CSER conference at Cambridge. She spoke about "creeping normalcy" as well as complexity and conceit.

I propose that our human tendency to anthropomorphise technology, its capacities and/or materiality expose us to risk. Here, I focus on a tendency, a 'creeping normalcy', to anthropomorphise the airborne unmanned militarised/weaponisable drone, and it various capabilities. Gregoire Chamayou in Drone Theory wrote “Drones have not only eyes, but also ears and many other organs”. (1) A drone's imaging technology is often referred to as 'drone vision'. But, 'vision', as Lauren Wilcox reminds us is, "always embodied and tied to other ways of knowing and creating the world". (2) So does using the word 'vision' for a drone's imaging technology set us on a relational course with the drone that may be reductive, one sided, fake? If so, what kind of knowings and creations ensue? Is this where the risk that exposes us to threat lies? Chamayou also notes that the drone is an "unblinking eye", and here he observes a reductive, rather than augmentative, outcome. (3) For me it indicates a fake eye, and places a question mark over the veracity of a drone also having "ears", and "other organs".  

Cloud Eyes Oil on canvas 40 x 40 cm 2017

I have previously written about my issues with using the word 'vision' to describe a drone's imaging technology. 'Vision' is far more than just seeing with an eyeball and pupil, it also denotes our mind's eye, dreams, imagination and visionary thinking. A drone cannot dream or imagine. Before we relinquish 'vision', in its broadest sense, to the drone, let's think about alternative descriptions for a drone's imaging technology. By doing this, we may protect ourselves from reductive forces, as well as violent ones. I prefer 'scope' or 'scoping' to describe a drone's imaging technology. A camera has a scope, as does a gun. A drone is a sophisticated mix of camera and gun, aiming and 'shooting' to capture images - aiming and shooting to kill. It is not an 'eye-in-the-sky", but a 'scope-in-the-sky'. Suddenly, the latter nomenclature untethers any kind of embodiment. I could say it disembowels, but that would indicate that a body existed to be disemboweled - and a body does not exist!

While aware that human operators, situated in ground control stations, currently monitor a drone's mission, the unmanned nature of the aircraft and its remoteness from human operators, is not an embodying process. It is an indication of what I call 'unhumanning' processes, as well as dehumanising ones. Wilcox draws attention to a "voyeuristic violence" enabled by the drone. (4) Here, the remote operators and the human victims are drawn together. One is considered voyeuristic as he or she gazes at screens relaying the intimacies of life and death. The other is the victim of a violent mortal death at the end of a guided missile. I propose another term to describe the hunting operation of a drone - 'scopophilic necro-intimacy'. (5)  Violent voyeurism suddenly becomes more grotesquely violent because 'scopophilic' conveys a kind of deviant morbidity. The term 'necro', relating to a corpse or death, conveys ideas of mortal death and perhaps moral or psychic death. 

Remote Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Does a drone have a body? If its imaging technology is not really describable as having the full capacities of human vision, does a body exist? I'd prefer to think of the drone as an outer chassis, not a skin, that houses its  payload, not embodying "organs". Payloads can include sensors, fuel, weapons, cameras, radar equipment and so on. Payloads can depend on mission requirements. Like a mix-master cooking equipment, the drone can be fitted with what is needed at a particular time, for a particular mission. Does that seem embodying?

In my paintings, I use the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life as a representation of life, all life, including human life. The tree symbolises life forces with its branching appearance echoing vascular systems, neural pathways, river systems and cosmic forces. The tree, in my paintings, is a body - all bodies. It stands in contrast with the figure of the drone, which I often paint with small 'pixelating' squares to indicate its connection to the cyber, digital, virtual world. As Federica Caso points out in her essay Visualising the "Drone: War Art as Embodied Resistance" about my work, I do not normally include people in my dronescapes. Rather than trying to represent particular violent events with their individual living, injured or dead players, I take a cosmic view, where the tree is body and blood, and cosmic skies sing with the star dust from which we have all come from.

My painting below Anomaly Detection takes a cosmic view of the tree-of-life, seemingly targeted by three drones. With a cosmic perspective maybe we can detect anomalies that are not noticeable in an environment where "creeping normalcy" blinds us to insidious and silent behavioural risks?

Cheers, Kathryn

                                 Anomaly Detection Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

1.Gregoire Chamayou, Drone Theory, trans. Janet Lloyd (London: Penguin Books, 2015).41. 
2. Lauren Wilcox, "Drones" in Visual Global Politics, ed. Roland Bleiker (Abingdon and new York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2018), 111.
3. Chamayou, Drone Theory, 27, 32,
4. Wilcox, "Drones", ibid.

5. I used this term in my M. Phil [UQ] thesis.

New Shoots Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 216

 Drone Zones Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Scoping New Skies Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016