Friday, February 15, 2019

PREPARING FOR "WAR, ART AND VISUAL CULTURE" - SYDNEY SYMPOSIUM

Mission Capable Oil on linen 137 x 72 cm 2018 


Art, War and Visual Culture: Sydney
On Monday 25th February I am one of the speakers presenting at Art, War and Visual Culture, An International Symposium on the Art and Visual Culture of War, Conflict and Political Violence. You can view the conference website HERE. The symposium is taking place in Sydney. A sister symposium will take place in London on May 31, with artist and author James Bridle as a keynote speaker. You can view the London symposium site HERE

Art, War and Visual Culture: London
I would love to be able to attend the London symposium, as I have followed James Bridle's work for some time. I recently read his book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, which I highly recommend. One of the key messages in the book is the identification of the insidious arrival and influence of what Bridle calls "computational thinking". The whole book demonstrates how to expose and resist this kind of thinking. I use the word 'demonstrates' because Bridle does not merely explain, he poses questions that flip the mainstream, thus forcing the reader to confront how they think about the world. For example, he details some historical and current failures of computation, such as US military systems identifying "flocks of migrating birds as incoming Soviet bomber fleets" to "government IT initiatives that fall short of their much-vaunted goals and are superceded by subsequent, better engineered systems before they're even completed, feeding a cycle of obsolescence and permanent revision."[1] He then poses a question, "But what if these stories are the real history of computation: a litany of failures to distinguish between simulation and reality: a chronic failure to identify the conceptual chasm at the heart of computational thinking, of our construction of the world?" [2] Here, he presents us with a critical resistance to the bravura that surrounds contemporary technology.

James Bridle and Jean Baudrillard
Bridle's book gives us tools to bust open and resist the confines that French philosopher Jean Baudrillard warned us about in his 2003 book Passwords. He warned of a digital future where it will be “possible to measure everything by the same extremely reductive yardstick: the binary, the alternation between 0 and 1.”[3] "Computational thinking" is a symptom of this reductive space...this reductive yardstick that Baudrillard identified. The concept of reduction suggests homogeneity, sameness, uniformity. These, in turn, enable ease of control and management by systems and the entities that operate these systems. It provides a space that perpetuates "computational thinking" and its elevated status.  

This systemic 'landscape' is enabled by signals that ricochet around the world. from subterranean/undersea cabling, to land-based nodes, and into sky and space, via drones and satellites. I 'see' connecting and networked signals as netting the planet, holding us hostage, although we are largely unaware of the hostage situation. And, a hostage situation indicates a reductive space. 

Art and Resistance: New Landscapes in the Drone Age
The title for my Sydney symposium presentation is "Art and Resistance: New Landscapes in the Drone Age". In twenty minutes I will argue that signals net the planet with new kinds of hidden or invisible topographies that enable the scopic intent of contemporary technology. Landscape is reduced, homogenised and made uniform to allow ease of access. I will show paintings, like the two here in this post, to demonstrate how these signals have infiltrated the landscape, in a sense volumetrically colonising it. I sometimes try to mimic a computer screen or lens [camera or weapon] to pose questions about how we view landscape and our environment, the real vs the virtual. The real window or the computer 'window'. More importantly how do the machines that scope life and landscape, for surveillance and targeting purposes, impose new 'landscapes' onto the real, and onto our psyches? 

I am going to talk about how I use cosmic perspectives to take an imaginational reach beyond the drones and satellites, to see if an expansive picture can expose the anomalies that must exist in the reduced space of the signal-net. How can I make visible the invisible? Is a signal-enabled hostage situation a sign of war, a perpetual war and Derek Gregory's "everywhere war'? 

I will let you know how the presentation goes. 

Cheers,
Kathryn


1. James Bridle,  New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, (London and Ne York: Verso, 2018) 34.
2. Ibid.
3. Jean Baudrillard, Passwords, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso, 2003), 76.



New Horizons oil on linen 97 x 112 cm 2018

Thursday, February 07, 2019

SIGNAL-SCAPES & EXISTENTIAL RISK

 Atlantic Currents Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019


I look for the hidden and new topographies that exist in our landscape. I look because I have a theory. This theory is that these hidden or invisible new, and proliferating, signal topographies hold us hostage, thus threatening how we live and operate in our environment, even threatening existence as we know it. The latter may seem extreme, but identifying potential existential risks, and thinking about mitigation strategies, is far better than suffering irredeemable circumstances. The risk revealed in these new topographies is the insidious nature of connected and networked systems. While these systems do deliver positive outcomes, there is an underbelly. Here, it is important to think about Paul Virilio's statement “no technology has ever been developed that has not had to struggle against its own specific negativity”.[1] 

The underbelly of networked and connected systems includes the militarisation and militarise-ability of signals. Designated military networking is one thing. But, as Ian Shaw observes, security and policing activities, including monitoring such things as cyber terrorism, transnational crime and border security, are increasingly militarised by technologies and devices that are dual-use.(2) This is compounded by the ability of the militarised system, or those with mal-intent, to appropriate civilian technologies, systems and devices into their domains. A simple example is accessibility to mobile phones and the plethora of data they deliver. Surveillance is the lining of the underbelly!

Atlantic Currents and Pacific Currents
Atlantic Currents and Pacific Currents depict sea currents on the left of the image, and undersea cabling maps on the right. Both relay elements of landscape, one is natural, the other is not. Both landscapes influence how we live. Sea currents influence water temperatures, fishing, maritime activities and so on. Undersea cables enable communication, the internet and more. Multi-Mission (bottom) depicts the signalling the enables the operation of militarised airborne drones. Signals travelling at near light speed are conducted via undersea cabling from Creech Airbase in the Nevada Desert, to Ramstein Airbase in Germany, to satellites and then to the drones. The drones sensors capture new data that is delivered back along the connected system. 

These three paintings are part of a larger group of works on paper and oil paintings, where I attempt to expose the occupation of landscape, from subterranean/undersea to land, to the sky and into space. It is a volumentric kind of occupation - a colonisation that enables a persistent readiness for offensive and defensive action. The invisible part of the Derek Gregory's "everywhere war".(3)  

Can you see why I think it indicates an existential risk? Yes, risk lies in the development of, for example, autonomous weapons. But, signals are the ubiquitous enablers. 

I could write more, but I will leave you to look and think.

Cheers,
Kathryn

[1] Paul Virilio, “Red Alert in Cyberspace,” trans. Malcolm Imrie, Radical Philosophy (Nov/Dec 1995): 2. 
[2] Ian Shaw, “The Urbanization of Drone Warfare: Policing Surplus Populations in the Dronepolis,” Geographica Helvetica 71 (2016): 19-28.
[3] Derek Gregory, “The Everywhere War,” The Geographical Journal 177, no. 3 (2011): 238-50.

Pacific Currents Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

Multi Mission Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019