Friday, May 31, 2019


DRONE Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

In DRONE [above] a weaponised drone appears to hover in front of you. Its guided missiles and Hellfire missiles seem aimed at you. Its wide area surveillance system sends out surveillance signals, scoping, detecting, and perhaps targeting. It’s data-link antennae sends and receives information and instructions. But, the blue lines sectioning the sky disrupt this reverie of stealth. Perhaps this is not an image of a drone flying through the air, but rather, an image of a simulated drone graphically depicted on a computer screen. The blue lines may indicate geolocating graphics guiding the real, or not, drone into landing.

The binary code inscribed across the drone's wingspan 'instructs' the word DRONE, and then appears to start a new word that continues off the right side of the picture. Or, is the 'instruction' meant to be DRONED? I will leave you to think about the variety of possible interpretations here! That the last bit on the last byte is missing, indicates that the dronfication of landscape extends beyond the painting. Indeed, the lines, indicating signals also extend beyond the painting. 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or Unmanned Flying Aerial?
What I want to focus on is the term or name unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV]. This name for a drone conjures the idea of a plane flying in the air without a pilot on board. And, this is certainly a good description of an airborne drone. But, a drone can also be considered as an airborne aerial.  There is no need to use the word unmanned, because aerials and antennae are normally unmanned. Even satellites that receive and transmit data are unmanned. This idea came to me as I was worked through recent paintings where I expose signals that enable the operation and functioning of militarised technology, dual-use technology, and militarise-able civilian technology [including drones]. 

I was also thinking about my father. Although my father was a grain grower, from the age of 12 he had been an enthusiastic HAM, an amateur radio operator. Dad had a number of aerials dotted around the farm. Various antennae were mounted on each of them. These antennae enabled transmission and reception of messages from around the world. In 1957 when the Russians sent Sputnik 1 into space, my father [aged 20] was one of a number of HAMs from around the world who tracked the spacecraft and sent co-ordinates back to the Jet Propulsion Unit in the US, via an intermediary. My father, a farmer in western Queensland, Australia, played a small part in Cold War intrigue! Sputnik 1 heralded the space race. 

Thinking of the airborne drone as a flying aerial, an intermediary between Earth and optimal orbits, forced me to think about the drone in a different way. Essentially the drone could be described as a metal-clad flying chassis, its structure designed to enable the transmission and reception of signals that transmit data and instructions from land-based and space-based support infrastructure. Is it a vehicle? Well yes and no. But, could an aerial be described as a vehicle? That's a tricky one, because an aerial is an enabling node for signals to deliver and transport data and instructions. Are signals more of a vehicle than an aerial? 

Flying Weapon Aerial?
Now to the role of the flying aerial as a carrier of lethal weapons. As a carrier, the drone could be considered a vehicle. But, signals between devices on the flying aerial, and signals sent and received from land-based and space-based assets deliver data and instructions to the drone and its payloads. This includes instructions triggered by remote human operators, as well as internal algorithmic systems, to surveil, track, target and attack. Maybe the airborne militarised drone is a weapon aerial, a very sophisticated weapon, an interconnected matrix of sensoring, imaging, orienting, surveilling and targeting capabilities. Signals are pivotal to this kind of weaponry. Where does the human being fit in this matrix? 

I am going to leave my rambling there. But, while I might be off tangent, I think it is important to scrutinise how nomenclature contributes to assumptions and beliefs about contemporary technology, particularly militarised technology. 

I think DRONE looks like an airborne weapon aerial!


Thursday, May 23, 2019


Five Eyes and the Rest Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm

The Five Eyes is an intelligence alliance of five countries - Australia, USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand. Its formation stems from a post World War 2 "multilateral agreement for co-operation in signals intelligence (SIGINT), known as the UKUSA Agreement" signed in March 1946. Initially the agreement included the UK and the USA. Canada joined in 1948, and Australia and New Zealand in 1956. You can read more about its history HERE *

I am interested in the use of the word 'eyes', which in the post-war period meant that intelligence gathered by the five countries was for their 'eyes' only. One can assume that this meant human eyes. 

21St Century 'Vision'
In the 21st century, an age of accelerating developments in digital and cyber technology, networking and inter-connectivity, 'eyes' and 'vision' have taken on different kinds of meaning. Both have been assigned to the machine eg: the unmanned aerial vehicle or airborne militarised drone, satellites, machine learning/vision. The unmanned drone, for example, is often referred to as an 'eye in the sky'. Imaging technology used for surveillance and targeting is referred to as 'machine vision', 'drone vision'. Additionally, as autonomous systems, employing artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasingly employed, scrutiny of data and images for anomalies and patterns is no longer entirely the domain of the human being. That self learning systems can potentially also make 'decisions' based on algorithmic scrutiny begs the questions, where does the human being fit as a critical observer? 

The 21st century concept of vision, is increasingly one of detection, scoping and targeting. This is a concern, because human vision is not only seeing with eyeball and pupil, it is also daydreaming, using imagination, dreaming, and visionary thinking. Plus, we can detect, scope and target too! Jean Baudrillard's observation that "the real vanishes into the concept" helps us think about the implications of endowing machines with capacities of 'vision'. (1) Are we orchestrating our own disappearance? Are we being expelled, as Baudrillard implies, from an artificial world? 

Five Eyes and the Rest

In Five Eyes and the Rest I have used a cosmic perspective. From this perspective can you see any anomalies or patterns that might raise questions about increasingly persistent and pervasive machinic surveillance? Who or what is looking at who or what? 

With your eyes what do you see? I see 'eyes' everywhere! 



* Information about Canada's plans can be found HERE, New Zealand's HERE

Information about the UK's Reaper Drones can be found HERE
I have previously written about Australia's use of drones and future plans Pay Attention: The Drones Are Here
And, the USA's development and use of surveillance and weaponised drones is common knowledge

1. Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, trans, Chris Turner ( Seagull Books, London, New York, Calcutta, 2016), 12.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Charting the Invisible Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019

Charting the Invisible is another of my paintings that 'exposes' how signals operatively enable contemporary technologies to function in a networked and inter-connected manner. Without connectivity, many devices would be useless or near useless. By 'charting' the normally invisible connectivity and inter-connectivity of the modern technological world this painting can be understood as a kind of counter-map. Here, I focus on the 'map' as a subversive exposure and demonstration of the connection between militarised and civilian technologies. When you consider that security and policing activities are increasingly blurred with military activities, the militarise-ability of civilian technologies is an issue. Does this make everything dual-use? Additionally, while security, policing and military activities are generally considered necessary by many, malign entities using networked and inter-connected systems are more than unwanted interlopers. 

Like my last painting and post Martial Map I have painted lines that join nodes and devices. These lines represent signal connections. For example, a ground control station is linked to an airborne weaponised drone. This control station is also linked to a communication satellite, which is also linked to the drone. The drone is linked to a mobile phone, also linked to the GPS and communication satellite. The phone is linked, then, to a car, and a computer. Some nodes and devices send signals beyond the edges of the painting, to indicate connection to other devices and nodes. And, there are more connections between all the devices, and some connections are still invisible!

While the painting can be read as some kind of map, the cosmic landscape background positions the viewer in an ambiguous perspective. Is the viewer above or below, in front or behind, the net of signals? If they are below, the sky is netted, if they are above the planet is netted. If they are in front or behind the nets act as walls. Here, the netted appearance is important to me, as I 'see' this signal-net as an imposition on landscape, an occupier of space and a sign of a new kind of colonistion, a techno colonisation that holds us all hostage. Given the militarise-ability of civilian technology, in addition to designated militarised technology, does this colonisation come with a persistent readiness for defensive and offensive actions? If so, are we in a constant state of war preparedness, where the near light-speed delivery of data and instructions via signals expunges time for peace?  

On that 'happy' note.


Monday, May 06, 2019


Martial Map Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm

I have returned from overseas. In Toronto I presented on a round-table, themed to war preparedness, at the International Studies Association annual conference. I then had meetings in London and Berlin. 

And, I saw a lot of art, from the Rembrandt exhibition at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, to Is This Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, to Hito Steyerl's Power Plants exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London. Two exhibitions at the KW Institute in Berlin still occupy my thoughts. The exhibitions showed works by David Wojnarowicz and Reza Abdoh. Both artists brutally, honestly and sensorially reflected upon the AIDS crisis of the 1980s/early 1990s. I saw a number of exhibitions in Berlin, including Cian Dayrit's thought provoking counter mapping/cartography exhibition Beyond the Gods Eye at Nome Gallery. And, at C/O Gallery I saw two provocative photographic exhibitions - Double Take by duo Cortis and Sonderegger, and Before Sleeping/ After Drinking, a survey show of work by Boris Mikhailov. Matthew Day Jackson's exhibition Pathetic Fallacy at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset was a highlight. This quote from the gallery site gives you an idea about Day Jackson's motivation in this exhibition, "The overarching conceit is an interest in our compulsion to document, map and systemise our natural world as a method for understanding nature." Day Jackson's exhibition and Dayrit's exhibition were both highlights.

Since returning home the idea of counter cartography or mapping has occupied my thoughts. Are my paintings, where I expose signals that enable drone operations, a kind of counter mapping? In many of my paintings I paint proliferating nets of signals as imposed topographies that occupy landscape, from land into space. This volumetric occupation, I 'see', as a techno-colonisation of landscape and environment, facilitating an insidious control and manipulation of human behaviour and movement. I call my paintings 'new landscapes in the drone age'.

By exposing the nets of signals that enable militarised and militarise-able technologies I manifest a kind of map. These paintings expose the invisible, thus resisting techno-military forces by drawing attention to the insidiousness of inter-connectivity and networking. Additionally, the medium of painting enables the exposure of signals without relying on contemporary technologies that utilise connectivity, networking, for example, cloud storage, downloaded software - the internet. While I might upload images, the process of creation remains discrete. 

Martial Map 
The idea for Martial Map was inspired by reflecting upon IR scholar Antoine Bousquet's book Eye of War: Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone. In this book Bousquet provides a compelling historical perspective on what he calls the development of the "martial gaze", the human eye's conscription into surveillance, targeting and destruction. But, the human eye cannot see signals. Yet, once Heinrich Hertz first transmitted and received radio waves in 1886, radio communication opened the door to modern day connectivity and networking, the enabling signal forces of contemporary militarised and militarise-able technologies. 

The word 'martial' describes something that is related to or suitable for war, related to military life or inclined to war. Martial Map shows how various nodes can be linked, and inter-linked. I have painted various nodes; GPS and communication satellites, credit cards with chips, a cruise liner, home security technology, a digital tv, a drone's ground control station, human beings holding a mobile phone, a car, 'cloud' storage in the form of a huge building, a fitbit, a street surveillance camera, airport security apparatus, a relay aerial and three weaponised airborne drones. The painting suggests how civilian technologies can be conscripted into the militarised network. Dual-use is clearly  a highly problematic and diffused concept in the contemporary world.