Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation Oil on linen 36 x 56 cm 2020

As the development and use of airborne drones accelerate, I think about landscape. I think about how landscape is changing, in ways we might not notice.

Creeping normalisation occurs when something happens over a period of time, and thus its impacts accrue slowly. For example, during the COVID-19 there are some concerns about the normalisation of the use of drones and robots for a variety of reasons - surveillance, monitoring, spreading messages, spraying disinfectant, delivering supplies including medicines, and claims that temperature and heart monitoring can be conducted. If these activities are normalised what kinds of intrusion are we accepting now and for the future? 

As time goes on, and military and civilian drone use accelerates, how does landscape change? It changes because invisible signals, used to transmit and receive data and instructions to and from nodes, devices, drones and satellites, infiltrate our environment. While the hardware may be visible, the signals that enable networking, inter-connectivity, operability and interoperability, transmission and reception are invisible. Yet, these signals occupy landscape, as an overlay or net that creates its own 'scape' - a signalscape.  

This 'signalscape' is a sign of a new kind of colonisation of landscape, a stealthy techno-colonisation that disrupts traditional ideas of sovereignty, borders and concepts of Earthly landscape. As invisible signals ricochet from earth-based to sky-based and space-based assets, a volumetric occupation of our extended environment beyond Earth occurs. I often wonder when corridors in this occupied space between Earth and satellites will be commandeered. I often wonder if new titles of ownership will be 'surveyed' in this occupied zone. If commandeering and ownership of the signal-scape occurs, who or what benefits? Will it be individuals, non-state actors, governments, nations, mega corporations and artificial intelligence?

In Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation I have painted four quadcopter drones flying over an ambiguous landscape. The circular lines around each drone indicate the limits of their surveillance and data gathering arcs. These arcs are normally not visible, but here I am trying to demonstrate how signals stealthily occupy landscape. This is an act of imaginational metaveillance - turning human surveillance back onto the machines, without using the digital and cyber platforms the system itself relies upon. 

In Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation the nets of signals create a new kind of scape, one that imposes itself on the landscape below. In the painting this imposed 'scape' seems to be creeping towards a white tree standing on a distant horizon. It does not appear long until the tree will also be netted. This tree, for me, is the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life, a symbol of life and humanity. What happens to humanity when our environment is cloaked with nets of signals that relay data and instructions between nodes and devices, many with increasingly autonomous functionality? What happens to humanity when the networked and interconnected system - the netted signal-scape - operates at speeds beyond human domains of time and space? If this system is something we rely upon, then we need to think about all of its potential vulnerabilities. 

But, have we even noticed that the occupation of landscape may mean we are already held hostage?


Thursday, June 18, 2020


On Our Watch Oil on linen 36 x 56 cm 2020

I've been thinking about our current time of pandemic, protest, political mayhem, global strife and anxiety: I wrote the following, re: protests over historical statues, on Facebook and people seemed to like the idea. 

I've been thinking about the current furore over historical statues of people who are seen as representative of negative aspects of colonialism. Visual art clearly has power. It also offers ways to learn and question, so rather than destroy or discard these historical statues, how about commissioning contemporary artists to create work that responds to them. For example, historical pieces in tight spots could be moved to parks or other open spaces, where some historical statues are already situated, and new contemporary pieces can be placed with them. By doing this the pieces set up a visual dialogue that can inform us of the past, reminding us that the past delivers lessons for the present and the future. These new dialogues could involve historians, futurists & others along with artists. And, not only sculptors or 3D artists, but imagine open-air performances by actors/musicians/poets/dancers that respond to groupings of historical statues and contemporary sculpture/3D works. Imagine light shows, holographic work, or work that encourages audience/viewer participation. I envision a dynamism, that may not be comfortable, but it might potentially mean negative aspects of history help inform critiques and insights of not only the past, but also the present - and potentially - help us pave a positive and sustainable future.
Imagine too, how these kinds of projects would generate work and income for artists of all kinds!

History offers an array of dastardly acts, immoral behaviours, cruel intentions, evil doings, gross discriminations, acts of proprietorial hubris and perverse prejudices. History also offers an array of remarkable achievements, acts of valour and bravery, demonstrations of learning, revelations of science, feats of cultural excellence and intellectual prowess. History offers an array of lessons for a present that can also claim both dastardly acts and commendable behaviours. 

Have we learnt history's lessons? Can we learn history's lessons? How do we learn history's lessons?

While I was painting my new work On Our Watch I was thinking about how contemporary threats to freedoms, futures, lives, environment and well-being are perpetrated and perpetuated. Unfortunately, I 'see' new modes of empire, created by techno-colonising forces.* These new kinds of empire potentially replicate similar biases, prejudices, acts of usury, violence and control that characterised many of the negative aspects of historical empire building. As invisible or hidden signals connect devices and nodes, they volumetrically occupy territory from land to orbiting satellites. New types of territorial and domestic infiltration, colonisation and empire building pose sovereign and individual threats - election manipulations, cyber-attacks, fake news, identity theft, the dark web, surveillance, targeting of all kinds eg: by advertisers, governments or weaponsied drones. 
In On Our Watch I have painted two Sky Guardian drones. The small blue squares mimic pixels, representing the ubiquity of digital technology. I have deliberately chosen the colour blue to suggest a 'take-over' of landscape/territory by virtual and simulated landscape proxies. Fake landscape! The drones are armed with multi-penile-like red missiles, ready and erect for action. I have chosen Sky Guardian drones because in late 2019 it was announced that this drone is the RAAF's preferred acquisition choice. It was chosen over the MQ-9A Reaper drone because it is "able to be certified to fly in civilian airspace". I will leave you to think about that.
Regular readers will identify the red tree as my version of the transcultural/religious tree-of-life. It represents life and humanity. The tree appears to be on fire. Has it been hit by a real or metaphoric missile? Will the tree recover?

I have previously painted 'pixelated' drones - images below. 

ideas of empire. Highly recommended. 

 Anomaly Detection 2 Oil on linen 120 x 180 cm 2017

 Anomaly Detection Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

New Sky? Gouache on paper 57 x 76 cm 2016


Tuesday, June 09, 2020


Swarm Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Drone swarming technology is accelerating, with a number of countries developing swarming capabilities - UK, USA, China, Turkey, Israel, Australia and others.

A drone swarm is a group of multiple drones, also called robotic systems. Swarms of robots can be land, sea or sky based. I am particularly interested in airborne drone swarms.

A drone swarm operates through collective functionality, operating as a unit and enabled by wireless signal connections between the drones. An airborne drone swarm effectively becomes a flying signal-net that enables some autonomous functions by reducing reliance, during a mission, on external signalling. A drone swarm can also become the weapon, deployed as a kamakazi swarm upon target identification. Drone swarming stealth capabilities, reduced vulnerability to electronic warfare [eg: jamming and hacking], autonomous functionality, and resilience to attack [if one drone is ‘taken out’, the swarm re-calibrates and continues on its mission] are attractive capabilities for military forces, and potentially also for security and policing activities. Clearly, this technology would also have appealing applications for state and non-state aberrant actors. 

In many of my paintings I expose signals by painting lines between drones and auxiliary infrastructure, such as ground control stations, other airborne assets and satellites. I also expose signals by painting lines that indicate a drone’s surveillance arc, signals the feed data into the robotic system. This data can assist the drone swarm with functions such geo-locating and target identification, at the same time as building upon existing data to augment functionality.

In Swarm I have painted a swarm of domestic drones and indications of their surveillance arcs. I have chosen domestic drones to alert to the potential militarisation of civilian technologies. That non-state groups, for example, in the Middle East have conscripted and modified civilian drones for nefarious purposes is a great concern. I'll let you extrapolate!

I have painted the drones white. This gives the impression of some kind of fake cloud. I am interested in the way technology occupies landscape. Here, also, the visualising of signals exposes the way normally invisible signals occupy landscape and environment. Without signals the hardware would simply be an object.

Over the last five years I have created a number of paintings that address drone swarming technology. This online exhibition includes seven paintings.

Small Selection of Articles of Interest: 
I recommend you also do your own searching.
Swarming Drones: The Future of Warfare AFR by James Brown September 2019

 Drone Show Oil on linen 122 x 152 cm 2020

 Swarm Surveillance Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Droned Landscape Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Drone Spiral Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

 Drone Spiral 2 oil on linen 120 x 160 2018

Friday, May 29, 2020


Drone Show oil on linen 122 x 152 cm 2020

This painting was sparked by a few thoughts. And, now that it is done, it is sparking a few more thoughts.

I called the painting Drone Show because the weaponise-able drones are in a formation, as if performing. There are three types of drones - Reapers, Predators and X47Cs. It's like a parade of drones! I choose the word parade deliberately, its connection with military parades acting as a provocation.

Perspective and Imaginational Metaveillance
As with many of my paintings, the viewer could be below the drones looking up at a wild cosmic sky, or the viewer could be above the drones, looking down upon a turbulent but beautiful landscape. Once this play with perspective is realised, the viewer can 'fly', in imagination, soaring above, below and around the drones. I love to play with perspective by inviting viewers to 'fly'. It turns a unique human kind of surveillance back onto the drones. I call this an act of 'imaginational metaveillance'. It is uniquely human because it involves imagination - something machine learning and artificial intelligence are not capable of - yet. 

I argue that imagination, or a simulation of imagination, are capabilities no-one should aspire to enable an AI or an AGI with. If this is an aspiration then its more about creating an artificial human rather than an artificial intelligence.   

Light Shows
I also called the painting Drone Show to reference displays of civilian drones programmed to perform mesmerising light shows. These kinds of performances are, for example, great substitutes for fireworks. Although the drones in these performances are pre-programmed they represent a basic form of drone swarming technology. A sophisticated drone swarm will have more autonomous functions - geo-locating, orienting, target identification and so on. While militarised drone swarming technology is still being developed in a number of countries, a drone swarm could, among other things, be armed, be used as a swarm of weapons, act as a surveillance net or scaffold signal transmission to other assets. Suddenly the idea of a 'light show' becomes more ominous.

Aesthetic Seduction
I have painted each of the drones in Drone Show with different colours. I have painted the drones in a pattern, a diamond pattern. This pattern, the colours and the wild beauty of the landscape/skyscape draw the viewer closer. Once close, the drones becomes more apparent. Why are they there? I am using aesthetic seduction to create a shock, to garner attention and to stimulate questions about drone technology. A militarised drone's function stands in sharp contrast to the beauty which is evident in the painting. This is a deliberate means of arresting the viewer's attention. I know many people are critically interested in drone technology, but I have noticed that many others are either in awe or indifferent to it. Both awe and indifference are potentially dangerous. Awe and indifference are risks.

Drone technology - civilian and militarised - needs our attention! 

One of my concerns is that civilian drone technology can potentially be militarised. Militarise-ability, by state or non-state actors is a vulnerability. 

Imagine a 'light show' of civilian drones that have been militarised by malign forces! 

On the not-so-happy note,

Other posts of interest:

Thursday, May 21, 2020


My Mum gave me my easel a long time ago.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation has meant I spend most days in my studio. As a painter, I am used to working alone, I am just not used to having day after day free of disruptions. At a time when the world is in a state of flux, fear and anguish, I feel lucky to have such an absorbing occupation.

When I am not in my studio I am at my office desk, writing; all kinds of writing - posts, grant applications, articles, proposals, emails. Oh, and yes - social media.

My studio is actually my garage. I paint with the garage doors up, mainly to disperse turpentine smells. However, I can see a lovely park across the road, and I can hear cyclists as they speed by. Snippets of conversations, shouted from cyclist to cyclist, sometimes intrigue me. Like when I hear bits about business deals, family antagonisms, holiday reports, problems with children or parents. It's all so tantalising. I often wonder about further details.

Of particular delight are the families out walking or cycling. And, the young children skate boarding up and down the street. I've even had people wave to me from the footpath, one couple asking if they could see what I was painting. And, a grandmother with two small children, totally unaware that I was nearby, having a long discussion about flowers in my front garden.

Isolation, for me, isn't necessarily isolating.

At the moment I am working on another new painting. And, yes it is another dronescape, a reflection on the accelerating use of drones for a plethora of reasons. I am thinking of calling the painting Drone Show. You'll get to see it soon.

I also have a self-portrait, which I am really very happy about. I am not sure when I will show it to you though. Keeping it up my sleeve for something!!!

In the meantime, here are some studio photos.

                                                            Working on Echoes Across Time
I often cut out shapes in paper to stick on my paintings, to work out how something might look. I ended up not painting an upside-down tree-of-life in Echoes Across Time.

Various resources - cut-outs, print-outs,scissors, containers, oil and coffee!

Cut-outs on the floor and me sitting to paint low down on the canvas.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020


Echoes Across Time Oil on linen 97 x 115 cm 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is occupying our thoughts, dominating the media and changing our lives. 

In the midst of thinking about 'pandemic drones' and surveillance, plus thinking about the concurrent and continuing development of militarised drones, such as the RAAF and Boeing joint Loyal Wingman drone project, I felt the need to return to a quieter contemplation.

The result of this quieter contemplation is Echoes Across Time. While it might appear quieter, I still had thoughts about the current pandemic in mind. These thoughts, however, took me on a journey across time to previous pandemics - the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages, early nineteenth century cholera pandemics, the Spanish Flu that traumatised people just after World War 1. Paintings, drawing and prints created by artists across time clearly depict the anguish of pandemic, the ravages of illness and the sorrow of death. 

Like war, disease is a thread that weaves its way through human history. But, life continues. Sometimes lessons are learnt, sometimes not. 

Echoes Across Time 
In Echoes Across Time a red tree-of-life stands as a beacon in a ambiguous landscape. This landscape could be time. Below the tree, a pale blue dot could be Earth. The inference is that life as we know it is dependent on our Earthly environment. Another pale dot hovers over a distant horizon. Is this our moon? Or, is it a mirror image of Earth, but without the tree-of-life. If so, why? Is it Earth before life appeared, or is it a future Earth, after life has disappeared? What secrets do the echoes across time reveal?

Human future depends on how we deal with climate change, pandemic and war. That they intersect needs attention. Perhaps listening for and hearing the echoes of the past, and the echoes that bounce back from the future, are worthwhile undertakings. I suggest that art might help! 


Tuesday, May 05, 2020


Heartbeats Gouache on paper 2020

This last week media outlets covered developments in the use of drones to help detect temperature and heart beat during the COVID19 pandemic. The drone is equipped with sensors that detect, collect and transmit the data. This technology may be used in Australia, and has been trialed or used overseas. Here is an ABC article with some of the details A 'pandemic drone' and other technology could help limit the spread of coronavirus and ease restrictions sooner. but at what cost? 

I am pleased to see the media ask But at what cost? In a recent post Walking The Dog In The Drone Age , also the title of a painting, I refer to an article by Dr. Michael Richardson   'Pandemic Drones': Useful for Enforcing Social Distancing, or for Creating a Police State? . He also asks questions about the cost of introducing technologies that may appear to be beneficial, but if normalised they may pose future threats associated with privacy, freedom, security and more.

In this post I have uploaded a few recent quick sketches that reflect upon temperature or heartbeat checking by drones equipped with sensors. I am interested in how the human body is imaged, how it is reduced to a site of detection, scanning. I wonder what other types of ailments, characteristics etc might also be detectable now or in the future. I wonder how the notion of detection will change how we view ourselves and others. Here, I note that detection is not vision. The machine cannot see, but it can scan, scope and detect. It cannot dream, imagine or be visionary, all human abilities that are considered as part of having vision.

Temperature Gouache on paper 2020

Drone Swarm Pencil on paper 2020

Drone Swarm depicts a collection of civilian drones working as a team ie: a drone swarm. The radiating lines depicts their surveillance signal arc. Mass checking of heartbeats, temperatures etc at for example a festival, sports event, a large city will likely require numbers of drones. This introduces the concept of drone swarming. This quick sketch draws upon my interest in exposing invisible aspects of contemporary technology - mainly their signals, and how signals create nets in the landscape. 

Detection pencil on paper 2020

These quick sketches may end up forming a whole painting or part of a painting. I've just got to let ideas sit before I launch into a new painting. Or rather, filter all the ideas that swamp my head! This time of isolation has meant that because I do not have normal daily distractions, my imagination is swimming with ideas.

* Please read my recent post regarding my painting Wingman. I've posted the painting below, but it would be great if you read the Wingman post too. Yes, there's Australia's Parliament House!
Today more news about the Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing collaboration to develop a drone that can act as a 'wingman' to other manned aircraft, and potentially other manned assets, has been released. I've added some links to my original post 26/4/2020.


Wingman Oil on linen 97 x 115 cm 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Wingman Oil on linen 97 x 115 cm 2020

The Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing are collaborating to develop a new drone, a Loyal Wingman drone.The drone will fly to support manned aircraft, hence the name 'wingman'. With surveillance, stealth and weapon carrying capabilities the drone will be piloted remotely and/or by pilots in manned aircraft of various kinds. Artificial intelligence will be incorporated as a 'force multiplier' to aid an array of capabilities. This drone, when its development is finalised, will be Australia's first 'homemade' weaponisable drone. You can read more about the Loyal Wingman drone on the Boeing Airpower Teaming System site HERE  .

Added May 5: Today, further news was about the Loyal Wingman drone released by Boeing. You can read that news on the Boeing site HERE

Also today May 5, an excellent overview by Tyler Rogoway of the drone "Everything We Learned From Boeing About Its Potentially Game Changing Loyal Wingman Drone" was published in The Drive

I am not going to go into more detail about the Loyal Wingman drone, because the Boeing site has it all, including videos, press releases etc.

Wingman Oil on linen 97 x 115 cm 2020
What I am going to do is write a bit about my new painting Wingman. 

In the bottom left of the painting I have painted a Loyal Wingman drone in shades of surveillance night-vision green. I have also painted Australia's Parliament House with two civilian drones hovering in the sky above it. Parliament House is suspended in space, as if it is also an aircraft, possibly the manned system my Wingman supports? In the top left I have painted a satellite, again in shades of green. And, a pale blue dot acts as a sentinel, a reminder of 'home'. All of these elements hover in a cosmic space, but invisible signals - and politics - link them all.

The painting offers open-ended, but political and provocative, narratives. It speaks to the a present and a future increasingly occupied by militarised and militarise-able technologies with persistent and ubiquitous reach. 

What do you think? What kind of stories can be told?

Finishing the satellite in Wingman

The Word 'Wingman'
The name Loyal Wingman is an intriguing one for an unmanned system. Surely the word WingMAN, in some ways, re-mans the unmanned! Traditionally a wingman was a pilot flying as support, outside or behind a lead aircraft or formation. More colloquially, a wingman is someone who acts as support  in a social situation, for example, at a bar. 

I ask, does the word wingman, in some form or other, anthropomorphise or humanise the object - the drone? If so, what does this say about subliminal or overt human desires to have relationships with technology? After all, a drone cannot desire - so - any relationships human beings think they have with drones are going to be one-sided affairs! Does the word wingman create a sense of relationship, by promising attributes of  mateship and buddyship? 

Like ascribing attributes of vision to a drone that cannot see, let alone imagine and dream, the word wingman infers a lot more than protection. What kinds of dangers lurk when we humanise drones and other technologies by giving them names, and ascribing attributes, that denote human capabilities? 

AND, what about the word loyal? Surely a wingman is meant to be loyal, so why re-enforce loyalty in the name of a sensored, but not sentient, object? 

And, as always there is a lot more to ponder, but I will leave it to you now!


I've previously written about potential problems associated with humanising or embodying the drone. Please visit my previous post with lots of paintings The Drone: Do Not Embody


Other paintings and posts that intersect with Wingman


Showcases nine small paintings under $2000 AUD. 
Prices are current until May 18. 


Friday, April 17, 2020


$torm Oil on linen 31 x 66 cm 2020

Like so many other people I have been keeping an eye on the news about COVID-19. The news ranges from the serious, sad, dire to hopeful - from medical research, hopes for a vaccine, to terrible deaths and seemingly miraculous recoveries, to limited PPE, isolation stories, increased surveillance and concerns if this becomes normalised, to economic strife and more.

Landscape as Metaphor
My newest painting $torm, like my recent painting On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time [below] turns to landscape as a metaphoric way to analyse and visualise anxieties triggered by the current pandemic. In $torm I have painted a strip of red rain, falling out of, and into, a turbulent landscape. The angry red 'raindrops' are painted as small $ signs. You have to get up close to see the $ signs - this is deliberate.

How have quests for a exponential financial edges and growth, instead of simple financial exchange, predisposed the world to global pandemic? Industrialised farming causing breakdowns in natural containment of rare microbes, practices that cause pollution of our air, land and water, culinary desires for exotic animals exacerbating the potential for animal to human contagion transfer, and nation-states fearful of losing face, are all examples of '$torm clouds' that have brewed for decades. 

We are in the eye of the '$torm' now. How we navigate the tension between keeping people healthy/saving lives and economic considerations will define how we live with each other in post-pandemic decades. It seems some nations are handling the situation better then others.... 

Lives should always come first...

While On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time features the flat western horizon of my childhood landscape, the landscape in $torm is inspired by the easterly horizon. In the west there was nothing, in the east the Bunya Mountain range cut a majestic silhouette against the sky. A sacred gathering place for Indigenous Australians over eons, the Bunya Mountains are never really at rest. As I went to school each day on the school bus I would gaze at the Bunya Mountains. On a hot summer's day shimmering mirages tried to obscure the mountains, but they fought back. During wild storms the mountains darkened, sentinels watching over the flat naturally treeless Pirrinuan and Jimbour Plains. As the Bunya Mountains changed colour during the course of a day, they seemed to tell stories. Maybe these stories were warnings? 

$torm, with its rolling colours and multiple contours, a night sky seemingly supporting the the whole painting, is perhaps, a warning?

On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time  Oil on linen 30 x 40 cm 2020

$ Signs
I have previously used small $ signs to paint landscape elements. $urveillance [below] is from 2016. It 'speaks' to the military-industrial complex through a critique of surveillance, particularly undertaken by sky-based technologies, such as airborne drones and satellites. This painting intersects with $torm because there is increasing commentary on the potential future outcomes of normalising surveillance measures undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent article 'Pandemic Drones': Useful for Enforcing Social Distancing, or for Creating a Police State by Dr. Michael Richardson [Uni of New South Wales, Australia] is an example of increasing concerns. 

 $urveillance  Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2016

A few other paintings where I use small $ signs include:
Risk  2010
Planet $  2011


Friday, April 10, 2020


Machine Unreadable Oil on linen 56 x 76 cm 2020

Machine Unreadable was started not long after I returned from the UK in mid February, and it is now finished. I had gone to the UK to attend and present at the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, University of Sheffield. One of my fellow presenters Mark Reinhardt, Professor of American Civilization at Williams College, gave an interesting talk "Killing Aesthetics? Theora, Automated War, and the Paradox of Drone Visuality" that posed questions about machine to machine scrutiny of images, or rather, their constituent data.* Here, for the machine, the data does not necessarily need to manifest into an image for human eyes. 

Reinhardt's questions intersected with concerns I have expressed in talks, and here on this blog, about attributing the ability of 'vision' to a machine eg: machine vision, drone vision. Vision as a human capability is far more than seeing with eyeball and pupil. Human vision is also about imagination, daydreaming, dreaming, visionary thinking. A machine cannot see or imagine - a machine does, however, scope. Machines that examine image data represent a removal of the human being, and therefore, even the need for an image, or as Reinhardt notes a "killing of aesthetics as both human judgement and human perception."** 

During Prof Reinhardt's presentation he mentioned the term 'machine unreadable' and suddenly I had pictures bouncing around in my head - imagination! Although I had heard the term before, I think the contexts of the talk and the conference opened a different appreciation of the term's meaning. It was one of those moments, which I love, when inspiration is sparked. 


Machine Unreadable is the result.

In Machine Unreadable I have painted a 'corrupted', colourful and incomplete QR Code-like design  over a landscape. The QR Code almost becomes a landscape itself, its dispersed geometry acting like pixels that might, if completed, make up a digital image. The overlay of colourful squares and rectangles obscures the landscape behind. Is this an attempt to make the landscape unreadable? If so, who or what cannot read the landscape? Or, is the landscape the 'destination' image, if the QR Code could be scanned by a mobile phone or other digital devices? 

The 'corrupted' QR Code also acts as a camouflage, perhaps a bit like the dazzle camouflage used on British ships during World War I. Geometric patterns were painted on ships to confuse German submarine officers about the size and shape of ships, plus their speed and direction of travel. If the QR Code is a camouflage, what secrets does it hide? What might it be protecting? Is it confusing? The camouflage could be a metaphoric protection of event the idea of the image, a visual double-play where both the camouflage and the landscape are images that combine to create another image.

Machine Unreadable can be 'read' by a human being, drawing upon imagination, curiosity, experiences, knowledge, memories. This 'reading' can result in multiple interpretations that might be satisfying, enjoyable, or maybe even spark new ideas. A 'reading' could also result in disinterest! Some people might not recognise the geometric pattern as being like a QR Code, but that doesn't matter because the aesthetic response to a colourfully presented pattern incongruously laid over a landscape is likely to induce wonder. How does a machine's scoping capability compare with wonder, imagination, a sense of curiosity, and the ability to dream, daydream or even have nightmares. 

Maybe the machine is the nightmare? 

So much to think about.

* Check out the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference booklet  page 56-57 for details on Prof Reinhardt's presentation. And, then check out all the bios and abstracts!
** Ibid., P. 56. 

And, another recent post with imagination as a core topic Strange Times and Imagination

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


Walking The Dog, In The Drone Age Oil on linen 82 x 102 cm 2020

Dog Walking During COVID-19
Last week a Youtube video of a quadcopter domestic drone walking a dog appeared online. Someone in Cyprus, in lockdown due to COVID-19, had ingeniously improvised a way to enable his/her dog to still have a walk outside. I watched the video over and over. While it was cute and very amusing, I also felt a sense of foreboding. While there have been other videos of drones being used to monitor people, issue loudspeaker instructions, deliver materials during this time of pandemic, the video of the dog being walked by a drone struck me as a sign of acquiescence to the machine. To have such a normal activity mediated and apprehended this way was dis-quietening. It inspired me to paint.

Australian Kelpie
In my painting Walking The Dog, In The Drone Age I have painted an Australian Kelpie being walked by a domestic drone. I chose a Kelpie because we have one in my family, and she's lovely [see below]. In the distance [future?], I have also painted a drone walking a human being. The human being and the drone are framed by targeting or focusing graphics of the kind we might see through a camera lens or a gun scope. Other red and white lines create the impression we might be viewing the depicted scene on a computer screen. The two drones, the dog and the human being are all painted shades of night vision green, to indicate a sense of being watched, surveilled. The layers of surveillance are deliberate. The leash linking the human being to the airborne drone, is also a metaphor for our increasing reliance on technologies that monitor us, collect data from us and generally mediate how we operate in our landscape and environments.

                                          Details from Walking The Dog, In The Drone Age

There Are Benefits of Drone Use - BUT
I am fully aware that during a pandemic there are many benefits in using drones and other technologies to deliver messages, ensure people are adhering to social distancing guidelines, detecting temperatures, delivering medical supplies and goods, and so forth. But, we need to be careful about normalising them, and if normalised how are they held to account? For example, how is the data managed? Who or what is in control? As  Michael Richardson notes in 'Pandemic Drones': Useful for Enforcing Social Distancing, or for Creating a Police State?  published today in The Conversation, "these measures may be difficult to rollback once the pandemic passes. And safeguards will be needed to prevent unwanted surveillance in the future." Do read Richardson's article, as he raises very important points we need to consider. 

As regular readers know, due to my Master of Philosophy studies, I have had a near-five year interest in critically engaging with airborne militarised drones. I am interested in not only militarised technology, but also the militarise-ability of civilian technology, especially through the networked system. Although useful during this dreadful pandemic, in a world where systems are networked and interconnected, drones used for policing and security activities could easily become martialised and militarised by state or non-state actors. This could occur deliberately or unintentionally. As Richardson notes "Putting more drones in the sky raises concerns about trust, privacy, data protection and ownership. In a crisis, those questions are often ignored.

In Walking The Dog, In The Drone Age the drone walking the human being could be a metaphor for state or non-state actors. As I have previously written, the drone, whether military or not, acts as a sky-based intermediary between land-based assets and orbiting satellites. The drone walking the human being could represent forces beyond our control, signal reliant technologies working at light speed and therefore in dimensions beyond human experience of time and space. No wonder the drone in my painting is used to orient the human being!  

Now for something highly speculative, the drone walking the human being could be a metaphor for a post-human future, where human beings are the pets.


As well as Dr. Richardson's article mentioned in the text, I recommend reading the following articles, if you are able to access. Dr. Anna Jackman recently wrote an article "Consumer Drone Evolutions : Trends, Spaces, Temporalities, Threats".   in Defense and Security Analysis. Dr. Caren Caplan has just written a very interesting article "Atmospheric Politics: Protest Drones and the Ambiguity of Airspace"

Me in my studio with my daughter's gorgeous Kelpie.
She is a lovely dog.


Saturday, March 28, 2020


On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time Oil on linen 30 x 40 cm 2020

On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time just happened! I am actually working on another painting Machine Unreadable, nearly completed. I started to prepare a new canvas so that it would be ready to work on next week. But, I could not stop - and - On The Edge of Fury: A Landscape for Our Time is the result. This type of thing happens reasonably often, especially when there is a lot to think about. And, at the moment, with COVID-19, there is a huge amount to think about - and worry about. This kind of rapid creation also happens when I've worked intensively for some time. It's like a release valve. I consider it a normal part of the creative process, a kind of waxing and waning of intensity. 

I wanted to create an image of turmoil, to reflect the effects of a world changed by virus. As I was pushing the paint around with a brush, pouring paint from a container and tipping the stretcher up and down to make the paint drip and flow, I suddenly thought of my childhood landscape. I've written about this landscape before [please see images below for links]. I grew up on my parent's grain farm on the flat naturally treeless black-soil Pirrinuan Plain, outside Dalby, on the fertile Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. As we danced with endless horizons and relentless skies, distance consumed us. In stormy weather the sky seemed to overtake the landscape. With nothing to obstruct our view we could see where lightning struck the Earth, we could watch clouds rolling wildly and strips of rain pouring on parched soil many kilometers away. The unobstructed flat horizon and the unfolding distance revealed everything. 

As I was playing with the paint, I suddenly painted a horizontal line across the painting. This is the flat horizon of my childhood, the marker of distance that made me who I am. The painting felt right, it spoke to me about how landscape informs us, if we a willing to watch, listen, smell and feel. With my painting, a tension between calmness and calamity offered a way to think about the effects of the virus. The flat foreground could, on the one hand, be a future of calm reflection about much needed societal change, but, on the other hand, it could also be the past. It's certainly not the present! The sky tumbles uncontrolled, maybe not only reflecting the present, but also a possible future. The flat horizon seems to suggest we have a choice about how this future might expand before us. 

The tension between land and sky is exposed in the nakedness of the flat landscape terrain - no hills, no trees, no houses. The storm, a metaphor, appears ominously ready to devour the calmness. Would this mean a future foreclosed? However, the storm is equally exposed, its fury obviously raw and hot. The flat exposed horizon demands attention, possibly offering hope as it holds the fury back, giving us some time. The horizon is a metaphor for the world to meet the fury of nature in honest and compassionate ways. Are we brave enough? I think we need to be.

Life depends on it.


*Below are some images of the Pirrinuan Plain, plus three other stormy paintings!

Me with my brothers Wilfred and Douglas, many years ago. The sky is stormy, although not wildly so. We had some very welcome rain.
 Me in 2015 on a trip back to Dalby and the Pirrinuan Plain. Note the flat horizon, and the rich black soil. Cotton, mainly dryland, is now farmed in the district. It was not a crop grown during my childhood. Back then it was mainly wheat, corn, sorghum.

A very old photo of the Pirrinuan Plain. Probably taken in the 1930s-1940s by my grandfather.

Stormy Weather, Where? Oil on linen 120 x 150 cm 2013

Storm Oil on linen 85 x 150 cm 2012