Monday, January 28, 2019

HUMAN: Recognition, Identification, Targeting

HUMAN Oil on linen 31 x 36 cm 2019

In both these paintings, HUMAN  and Where to Hide? (below), I play with ideas of algorithmic human identification, and reasons for this identification. Clearly, as the cross-hairs indicate, I am thinking about targeting. However, reasons for targeting can range from orders to kill, to targeting by entities such as advertisers, pollsters, corporations, and governments. These seemingly benign entities target to seduce buyers, persuade voters, and to muster people into standardised behaviour [particularly online]. In this interconnected and networked age, the data that is collected, however, could/can be used to aid identification and targeting for more deadly purposes.

In both paintings I have appropriated the appearance of a computer screen or lens, giving a sense of removal from the scene eg: similar to remote airborne drone operations. But, is the operator human or machine? The algorithm of binary code 'instructing' HUMAN at the bottom of each painting references the use of machine learning to assist in target identification. Global debates about whether autonomous systems should go further and make the ultimate 'kill' decision have regularly occurred since 2013, eg: CCW at UNOG. However, politics and the law, are fast outpaced by enhancements in technological applications and systems developments.

I purposefully did not 'instruct' in binary code the words HUMAN BEING because I wanted the single word HUMAN to suggest that algorithms identify using data-derived characteristics of humankind. While individuals are certainly targets, humanity is also in the cross-hairs, but do we realise it? Also, while individuals are targeted standardisation of characteristics leads to biases and mistakes, and the possibility of further standardisation. Could standardisation could pose a an existential threat?

I have painted the shadows of the seemingly targeted figures as trees-of-life. For me this indicates things the algorithm cannot access, like imagination and dreams. Each tree-shadow is an individual, representing life in all its array of personal and ancestral history, biology, spirit and soul. Can these all be reduced to data?

But, the tree-of-life represents another kind of 'code' of life, one that also speaks to humanity as a whole. The tree-of-life with its array of branches, twigs and leaves, stands in contrast with the zeros and ones. I am reminded of Jean Baudrillard's observation about a digital destiny where it will be "possible to measure everything by the same extremely reductive yardstick: the binary, the alternation between 0 and 1". (1) Here, standardisation can be viewed as a reductive process to enable the kind of measurement Baudrillard suggests. The tree stands as a resolute beacon of hope!

HUMAN and Where to Hide? are part of my ongoing quest to represent landscape in ways that pose questions about humanity's future and the planet's future. I  think about computer graphics, imaging technology, invisible signals and undersea cables that enable networked operations. Are inter-connectivity and networking processes examples of standardisation? Is targeting made easier in a world netted by militarised and militarise-able signals that perhaps perpetuate standardisation? Is there anywhere to hide in a standardised environment?

There is more to say, but I will leave that up to you.


[1] Jean Baudrillard, Passwords, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso, 2003), 76.

Where to Hide? Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

Sunday, January 20, 2019


 Pacific Currents Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

What do I mean by 'Landscape Deception", the title of this blog post? I think it can mean a number of things  eg: perhaps landscape itself employs deceptive means, perhaps landscape is hijacked by fake landscapes that deceive? 

Regular readers know of my long-term interest in landscape generally, and my more specific interest in what I call the militarisation of landscape. I see the latter as an insidious occupation of landscape by the signalling systems that enable near light speed operation of miltiarised technology and militarise-able technology. Here, I not only include things like drone operation, but also, things like manipulation of social media, hacking into financial and communication systems, monitoring of personal devices, access to personal data and so on. That militarisable technology includes civilian systems reliant on signals and cables, and their associated infrastructure such as satellites, data centres, relay stations, cannot be ignored.

The three new paintings in this post reflect upon ideas of deceptive landscape, or the deception of landscape. 


Pacific Currents [above] depicts the flow of Pacific water currents on the left. On the right I have painted a map of the undersea cables that connect across the Pacific ocean. These undersea cables, while tangible, are also essentially invisible. Yet, they enable the operation of 21st century networked technology. 

In Multi Mission [below] cabling from Creech airbase in the Nevada desert connects with the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany. From there signals sent to and from a satellite enable airborne drones to undertake missions. Signals sent by subterranean and undersea cables, and signals sent by wave frequencies into and from space, are invisible. I 'see' them as creating new 'topographies' that net the planet from underground/sea to space. 

 Multi Mission Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 

The invisibility of these new 'topographies' can be associated with deception. In Deception Perspective [below] I have painted cross-hairs to create an illusion of perspective. That the cross-hair on a camera or gun helps draw a subject/victim closer cannot be ignored. It is a way of using targeted perspective. 

In the painting I have painted three large red cross-hairs in a row. I have then painted white cross-hairs in diminishing sizes to give the illusion of perspective. These cross-hairs parody the cross-hairs on lenses, computer screens, imaging devices. They are part of the insidiously invisible signaling net that wraps the planet, the new landscape of deception.

So, is landscape deceived or deceiving. Are we deceived or are some of us deceiving? Is anyone even aware of what is happening?

These three paintings are part of my - signalscapes, dronescapes, militarised landscapes work

Monday, January 07, 2019


Nowhere to Hide: Memorial Oil on linen 30 x 30 cm 2018

Surveillance in the 21st century is pervasive, persistent and increasingly ubiquitous. Cameras, sensors, monitored devices, and the collection of various kinds of data contribute to modern day surveillance. Facial recognition, gait recognition, social media use, shopping habits, web browsing and much more feed data into the surveillance net. 

I am interested in how surveillance by cameras and sensors changes our perceptions of landscape. The focusing and orienting markings on camera lenses and computer screens create a digital overlay, one that represents a new kind of topography. It is the topography of simulation and computation. Signals that connect devices and enable networked systems also create an overlay of the landscape, an invisible volumetric overlay that extends from Earth to satellites in space. Networked systems enable the persistence of contemporary surveillance.

There is nowhere to hide.

These new and largely discrete or invisible new landscape topographies act like nets or webs. This webnet captures us, holds us hostage...but, do we realise this? Has this insidious infiltration of life and landscape changed perceptions of landscape, environment? If not, will it? How conscious are we of any changes?

In Nowhere to Hide: Memorial the crosses can represent a few things - cross-hair focusing/targeting on a camera or a gun lens, orienting graphics on a computer screen, the digital division of landscape into zones or maybe the digitised structural components of a simulated landscape. The crosses indicate a process of uniformity, a flattening of space and experience. Does this mean the real landscape, in all its wondrous diversity, becomes alien? Does it mean we feel there is nowhere to hide, to be private?

The crosses also act as a kind of memorial to loss of life and freedom. Like a military cemetery, the uniformity of the crosses-crosshairs acts as a reminder that wars, over centuries, have caused death and destruction. Maybe we could call this habitual death and destruction, martialised necro-repetition. It cuts to the chase more incisively than explanations such as ‘history repeats itself’.

I like to think that, as a painting, this image acts subversively!

There is a lot more I can say, but I will leave you now to wonder....


* I have previously written about the contemporary hostage situation HOSTAGE