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. Here, the word aerial becomes a noun. 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!


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