Wednesday, April 01, 2020

WALKING THE DOG, IN THE DRONE AGE

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.

Metaphors
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.

Cheers,
Kathryn

Saturday, March 28, 2020

ON THE EDGE OF FURY: A LANDSCAPE FOR OUR TIME

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


PROCESS
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. 

TURMOIL - VIRUS
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. 

HORIZONS
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.

Cheers,
Kahryn

*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






Sunday, March 22, 2020

STRANGE TIMES AND IMAGINATION

Earth's Pulse Oil on linen 80 x 200 cm 2005

EXISTENTIAL RISK
As regular readers know I am very interested in ideas of existential risk, particularly posed by emerging technologies. I have attended talks and read quite a lot about existential risk generally, and pandemic is one of the risks I am somewhat acquainted with.

AND, here we are in the midst of a corona virus global pandemic.

IMAGINATION
Back in January, when I was preparing for my trip to the UK to attend the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference at the University of Sheffield, the corona virus had reared its ugly head in China. By the time I left Australia in early February I was getting worried, so I went overseas with a few masks, alcohol wipes, gloves, nasal sprays and a bar of soap in my handbag. Yes, I was that strange lady wiping her table at the hotel restaurant, opening doors with my elbow, washing my hands vigourously. My young adult children thought I was mad, but they don't now! The motto of this story is, don't dismiss someone with an imagination prone to extrapolating burgeoning negative situations into catastrophe and disaster! Remembering, too, that this someone has studied history and researched topics associated with existential risk for quite awhile.

The role played by informed imagination in times of unfolding catastrophe is an interesting one. A vivid imagination can compel action to be taken, but it can also provoke a paralysis of action. Ultimately fearful reactions to an existing situation, and subsequent imagined thoughts about the future, can be productive or non-productive.

LEADERS
But, what are the benefits or dangers of not having an imagination? Do our leaders need to have  imaginations that responds to data, are informed by a knowledge of history, are open to the expertise of others from across the sciences, social sciences and humanities? Surely an imagination is required to even 'see' how multiple sources of expertise can interact in meaningful ways? Surely an imagination is required to extrapolate future possible outcomes from graphs that map historic and current data? An imagination surely must help determine how intervention can arrest dire trajectories? I would say an imagination is needed in order to undertake logistical planning!

And, ultimately we need people who can imagine a life after pandemic, possibly a life vastly different from pre-pandemic life. And, a reminder, difference does not necessarily mean worse. Nor, does it necessarily mean better. But, it might mean we have a choice. Let's imagine in compassionate ways that are productive and meaningful. Let's imagine in ways that disallow the paralysis of fear. Rather, let fear contribute as a driver rather than a brake.


Compassion oil on linen 100 x 100 2010


Earth's Pulse [top]
This painting, from fifteen years ago, has a graph-like appearance. It 'maps' the pulse of the Earth. How do you think its currently performing?

I exhibited this painting in Abu Dhabi at my 2005 exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation. A Middle Eastern man dressed is swathes of white robes and a largish head-dress came to the exhibition a few times. I cannot remember which country he came from, but he had fought in Afghanistan. On one visit to the show we had a long conversation that involved discussions about a few of the paintings. When he looked at Earth's Pulse, before even knowing the title of the painting,  he said:

"This reminds me of my own mortality."

Now, I think that demonstrates an imaginative response!


DISTANCING
As a studio-based painter I am used to working alone. With a couple of conferences cancelled I don't have much else to do, but paint...and be online! I am currently working on a painting I will call Machine Unreadable. Please check out my Instagram page for studio photo updates of work in progress. Hopefully, when the pandemic is over, I can get to exhibit some of my paintings!

In the meantime please stay safe, for yourself and others.


Showing Them Our Home Oil on linen 30 x 56 cm 2017
Me, with my three adult daughters. And, Earth, the pale blue dot.


Cheers,
Kathryn


Monday, February 24, 2020

VULNERABILITY: THE NETWORKED & INTERCONNECTED SYSTEM

Lethal Landscape Gouache on paper 57 x 76 cm 2018


TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
On the plane back from the UK* last week I watched quite a few movies. At 181 cm tall, sleeping in economy class is really not possible, until exhaustion steps in. So, I try to exhaust myself with movies. Among the array of movies I watched was the latest Terminator film, Terminator: Dark Fate. 

Interesting...

The first of the six Terminator movies Terminator came out in 1984. That's thirty-six years ago! Clearly, the idea of a terminator robot that will relentlessly not 'die' still pervades popular culture! However, with current debates about lethal autonomous weapons the idea of independently motile killing machines is something to seriously think about.


Scopic Gaze: 21st Century oil on linen 36 x 36 cm 2018


NETWORKED AND INTER-CONNECTED SYSTEM
In Terminator: Dark Fate, as in the other iterations of the Terminator story, a future where a Skynet MACHINE-SYSTEM imperils humanity, plays a key part.

In Terminator: Dark Fate the destruction of humanity's networked and interconnected technological system is key to the AI overlord's destruction of human civilisation and life. In the film this destruction seems to happen in an instant, almost at a flick of a switch. This is demonstrated with scenes of carnage coupled with systems failure, for example, a plane - obviously no longer supported by GPS and communication systems - suddenly falls out of the sky. THIS got my attention - not an easy thing to watch when one is actually on a plane!

Clearly a malevolent super intelligent AI destroys the existing interconnected and networked system, and replaces it with its own insidious time warping one. The physical tentacles of the system are shape-shifting robots, armies of killing machines and swarms of nano-slaughterbots.

SIGNALS
I immediately reflected upon some of my paintings where I make visible the invisible or discrete signals that enable networking and interconnection of the electronic, digital and cyber systems that propel military, dual-use and militarise-able civilian technologies. In these paintings I attempt to expose the vulnerability of an inter-connected and networked system. Vulnerabilities range, from possibilities such as global militarisation of systems by state or non-state actors, cascading effects of a technical accident, results of an unintended event or an event perpetrated with malign intent, either by a human being or a super-intelligent AI. And, then there is the possibility of another coronal mass ejection  [CME], a natural event beyond anyone's control. Do read up on what a CME is - one occurred in 1859, and Earth missed another one in 2012, by one week.

Although the figure of the Terminator robot elicits fear, its theatricality, physicality and materiality detracts from the prime evilness of the all-encompassing malign system that hijacks humanity's and civilisation's future. Regular readers will 'get' that I am somewhat concerned!

BECAUSE

Science fiction stories are often prescient.


Space Net Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 17


MILITARY SPONSORED SCI - FI WRITING COMPETITIONS
The prescience of science fiction is why contemporary militaries are now holding sci-fi writing competitions. Here is a link to the Australian Defence College's first science fiction writing competition, an outcome of a recent Australian Defence College Sci-fi and the Future of War conference, that included "eminent science fiction authors, cyber warfare specialists, futurists, and ethicists."

And, here is an example of a US Military 2019 science fiction writing competition .

And, an interesting article Science Fiction's Hidden Codes written by Lt Colonel David Calder, US Army. He writes about the benefits, for military personnel, of reading science fiction. Commander of the Australian Defence College, Major General Mick Ryan, is mentioned in the article, for his strategy of including science fiction in the college's training programs.

Sci-fi is getting another lease of life - a consciously militarised one.

I have questions.

Are these competitions signs that the future is already militarised, that it is already occupied by wariness, stealth, strategy, and, clearly - anxiety? Perhaps these sci-fi writing competitions are attempts to hack imagination? What happens if the future and imagination are militarised? If I were to write a sci-fi story for a competition run by the military I would play around with the hacking of imagination idea! Yes, it would be convoluted story!

There are more questions...

But...

In the meantime, I paint....


I have posted a few of my paintings that visually critique the networked system...


Cheers,
Kathryn

* I was returning from the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, University of Sheffield. Such a stimulating and collegiate conference!


Charting the Invisible gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019


Martial Map gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2019


Topography of Signals Oil on linen 57 x 57 cm 2019


Lethal Landscape, False Horizons Oil on linen 70 x 100 cm 2018

Thursday, February 13, 2020

POST CONFERENCE- AESTHETICS OF DRONE WARFARE

     Ideas for new paintings, triggered at Aesthetics of Drone Warfare Conference

I attended and presented at the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, University of Sheffield, last weekend. It was a thoroughly stimulating and collegiate conference, with an array of different perspectives from multiple disciplines - International Relation/Studies, Art History, Literary Studies, Geography, Cultural Studies and more. Do visit the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare project’s website to read more about their research and activities.

Keynote speaker Derek Gregory gave a forensic-like examination of the lead up and aftermath of a disastrous February 2010 drone strike in Afghanistan on three vehicles carrying civilians. Listening to his thorough step-through of US military decision making and commentary was a sobering experience that still occupies my mind. Fellow keynote speaker Antoine Bousquet presented an intriguing history of surveillance and targeting technologies using, in part, an art historical lens that drew upon the history of the development of perspective. His presentation followed research detailed in his recent book “The Eye of War”, which I highly recommend. I also attended a workshop given by Drone Wars UK. It was a great overview of their research, and research methodologies.

Every paper presented at the conference was interesting, opening up new insights and perspectives. Please take a look at the conference booklet to read the array of abstracts, and presenter bios.

I was delighted to present “Painting Airborne Militarised Drones: An Act of Imaginational Metaveillance” on a panel with two other artists and researchers, Anna Walker from the University of Plymouth, and Joseph DeLappe from Abertay University. Joseph and I had examples of our work in a small exhibition held for the duration of the conference. This was received really well by conference delegates and organisers.





I had a very interesting experience at the conference - being in the audience when my work was discussed in another researcher’s presentation. Michael Richardson from the University of New South Wales, Australia, gave a paper entitled “Drone Warfare and the Aesthetics of Nonhuman Witnessing”. I will admit to being pleased with a comment he made - that my paintings ‘pulled politics into account’. He also discussed the work of fellow Australian artist Baden Pailthorpe, as well as the fascinating Forensic Architecture group, Goldsmiths, University of London. The nonhuman witness, or to imagine what the nonhuman might witness, are ideas that open up intriguing perspectives on human/nonhuman relationships. Michael is convening a conference called Drone Cultures that addresses themes of witnessing - University of New South Wales, 30 April-1May this year. Do come along!

Going to conferences or presentations that focus on my areas of interest - militarised and militarised-able technology, contemporary war, the future, defence procurement and policy, existential risk - always trigger new ideas for new paintings. There are some photos of my notes and sketches from my notebook, top and below. Yes these scrawls will likely end up, in some way, in new paintings!

Cheers,
Kathryn







Wednesday, January 29, 2020

TOPOGRAPHY OF SIGNALS

Topography of Signals Oil on linen 57 x 57 cm 2019


Topography of Signals relates to two recent works on paper Martial Map and Charting The Invisible . In all three works I imagine flying to a distance beyond Earth and its array of sky-based and space-based technologies. From this imagined perspective I visualise the signals that transmit data and instructions to various kinds of technological hardware, such as, satellites, drones, ground control stations, mobile phones, credit cards, GPS in vehicles etc. By exposing signals it becomes apparent that the networked and interconnected system imposes a new kind of topography upon landscape. This new topography volumentrically occupies our extended environment, from land to orbiting satellites.

Imagine you are below the netted landscape revealed in Topography of Signals. Now, imagine you are above the signal-net. From either of these orientations a sense of foreclosure is felt. If you are below the signals you are woven into the matrix that volumetrically occupies extended environment. If you are above, an enclosure is 'witnessed'. Here, I channel some of geographer, Ian Shaw's, thoughts on enclosure, in what he calls the 'predator empire', and what I call the 'code empire'

This kind of imaginational metaveillance, undertaken in imaginational flight, is visualised in my paintings in ways that intersect with counter-mapping tropes. Counter-mapping is a way to scrutinise maps created by colonisers. It helps to reveal and map the ignored or subdued stories of pre-colonial  cultural, political and societal significance. While exposing signals as nets that occupy extended environment is not a re-examination of the past, it is a way to critically think about the networked and interconnected system as a coloniser, now and into the future. This is especially important in an age where the lines between militarised technology, dual-use technology and militarise-able civilian technology, are increasingly blurred. 

What kinds of risks and vulnerabilities are attached to a system that potentially enables global colonising forces?

_________________________________________________________________________________


Looking forward to the 

7-8 February, University of Sheffield, UK.

Please check out the conference booklet 

I am presenting a talk about my work 
Painting Airborne Militarised Drones: An Act Of Imaginational Metaveillance



Cheers,
Kathryn





Tuesday, January 14, 2020

LIFE, AT THE FRONT

Life, At The Front Oil on linen 56 x 112 cm 2020


Against a current backdrop of tension and disaster, such as the catastrophic fires in Australia, dangerous flooding in Indonesia [and even Dubai], and heightened tensions in the Middle East, there is also an overlay of political dissonance. As belief systems and politics are twisted and provoked by social media and fake news, opinion collapses into binaries of good and bad, right and wrong. It feels like LIFE is on the front-line of a battle. This battle seeps into our homes and workplaces via the screen - computer screens, iPads, mobile phones, and other devices. That these devices are networked and interconnected allows the binaries to accumulate at extremes, where complexity is lost. Near light-speed transmission of news, opinion, data, Tweets, comments [and photos of cats] keeps us on a fast moving treadmill, that goes nowhere. It creates a kind of inertia. 

No time for complexity. 

No time. 

With little time to think what happens?
I am reminded of Paul Virilio when he described the screen in Open Sky (1997) as “the square horizon” that causes “confusion of near and far, of inside and outside, disorders of common perception that will gravely affect the way we think”.(1) 

Life, At The Front and the Screen
In Life, At The Front I have tried to channel the impression of a screen. The orienting white lines mimic those that could be seen on a remote drone pilot's computer screen. Or, perhaps it is a computer gamer's screen? As the title suggests a battlespace exists. Is it real or virtual? Does it really matter? It could be both?

Squares of colour mimic pixels. These 'pixels' provoke questions about how contemporary images are generated, the veracity of images, how we are trained to look at images...and more. Please note my use of the word 'generated', rather than 'created', to describe the production of contemporary images that require screen-based platforms for production, exhibition and storage. 

The ubiquity of digital imagery and its generative digital and cyber processes, requires and causes standardisation, thus enabling the efficiency of streamlined globalised consumption. Here, my thoughts are informed by Virilio's commentary on standardisation and synchronicity in his 2012 book The Great Accelerator, where he also writes about a resultant inertia. He remarks that inertia threatens a "paralysis or, rather, the sudden tetraplegia of the societal body”. (2)

Tree-of-Life
In the painting a multicoloured burning tree - a tree-of-life - seems to be part of the orienting graphic overlay, but this is unclear. Maybe the tree, on fire, is a warning, just like the catastrophic fires in Australia. It warns, not only of fire, but of other catastrophes caused by not paying attention to science, by not thinking in complex ways, by not being prepared, and not looking into a future beyond a political cycle.........................

A red tree - another tree-of-life - sways in the wind on a distant horizon. Perhaps another warning?

Horizons
The landscape beyond the white-lined graphics, tumultuously unfolds into multiple horizons. And, with multiple horizons, there are multiple potential perspectives. Here, I think of horizons and perspective in literal and metaphoric ways. The fake perspective of the white targeting graphics is prosaic by comparison. Virilio again provides a way to critically think about the effects of ubiquitous screen-based technology. He comments, "What is the danger of globalzation? There is no perspective. There is an optical correctness being set up, and there is a generalized tele-surveillance that comes from the military with its drones, etc". (3)

Perspective
The question of perspective is one that has preoccupied me for a couple of decades. It is not a new interrogation. In my cosmic landscapes of the past I have invited viewers to fly in their imaginations, to play with perspective, both literal and metaphoric. 

My recent work dealing with militarised and militarise-able technology still invites viewers to 'fly' into cosmic realms. My work still plays with literal and metaphoric perspective, to re-enliven perspective, to provoke it - as a form of resistance.


1. Paul Virilio, Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (London and New York: Verso, 1997), 26.
2. Paul Virilio, The Great Accelerator trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2012),18.
3. Paul Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer, The Accident of Art, trans. Michael Taormina (New York and Las Angeles, Semiottext(e), 2005), 74.


NEWS

I am presenting at the


 Interdisciplinary conference 
University of Sheffield, UK 
7-8 February.

My painting New Horizons is the conference image!
And, it has been printed onto the conference tote bags
I am excited by the fact that as delegates walk around Sheffield, and return home on trains, planes and buses, these tote bags will be spread around the world!




Cheers,
Kathryn




Wednesday, January 01, 2020

ARE WE PREPARED?


January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared? Oil on linen 30 x 35 cm


Fire and Smoke
Catastrophic fires continue to burn in Australia, around the continent.* Exhausted fire services and volunteer fire fighters have valiantly fought these ongoing fires, some fires morphing into fire storms that scorch the earth as they shoot flames upwards into trees where the canopy becomes an elevated fast moving fiery hell. Daylight turns to red and then black, smoke drifts across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, and Australia records some of the worst air quality in the world. 

Were we prepared for the cataclysmic nature of this Summer's fire season? When hundreds of homes are destroyed, lives are lost and emergency evacuations of whole townships happen, we have to address the changing nature of the climate, how the landscape is inhabited and current risk mitigation management systems. Clearly extreme fire risk mitigation management has been lacking or, worryingly, not supported. 

The ongoing dire situation with the fires has revealed a dangerous political disconnect between government and expectations from the population. This disconnect will, likely, continue long after the fires have subsided. Any ensuing political instability will add fuel to unrest, protest, disorder and disappointment. Are we prepared for home-grown extremes of potential political and civil turmoil? 

Risk
The extent and ferocity of the fires have been described as unprecedented. Risk management must include attention to potential worst case scenarios - the unprecedented. With this in mind, what does the current cataclysmic fire situation tell us about other potential cataclysmic or unprecedented risks? Clearly environmental risks such as fire, drought and flood should have taught Australians a lot about risk mitigation. Are there other risks that we remain oblivious to, ignore or find too hard to comprehend? I was thinking about this kind of question when I painted January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared?

January 1, 2020, Are We Prepared?
I finished January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? today - January 1, 2020. I have painted it over the last couple of weeks, as the fires burn around Australia. Most people in Australia will likely know someone directly affected by the fires - for example, as the majority of a family member's property burned, the house was saved by a fuel reduction burn [about 2 hectares of a 10 hectare property] undertaken and organised during the previous Winter. The family member commented on the difference between the surface fire conducted during the fuel reduction burn and the ferocity of the fire that swooped though the property a few weeks ago. The Winter burn did not scorch the soil, the Summer out-of-control burn did.

This morning I listened to a Future of Life Institute podcast conversation between Prof Max Tegmark and Prof Huval Noah Harari. I have followed both for quite some time, and read a reasonable amount of their work. The podcast is an hour long, and it was a great way to start the first day of the new decade. Tegmark and Harari discussed - grounding morality and issues of consciousness, global health, animal suffering, existential risks and the ethics of the long-term future, nuclear war as a neglected global risk, near term AI and artificial general intelligence, creating new stories for the 21st century, risks of big data and AI enabled human hacking, and what does it mean to be human and what should we want to want. Early on in the conversation Harari asked a question about whether we are prepared for the future. Ah ha, this consolidated my ideas into a title for my new painting!

In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? a fiery background is a literal reference to the current  Australian fires, and a metaphorical reference to an urgency to think deeply about other potential future risks. Regular readers will know of my long-term interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies, and my more focused interest in contemporary and emerging militarised and militarise-able technologies. 

January 1, 2020, Are We prepared?, like Australia: December 2019 [below] also refers to the RAAF's confirmation of an order for SkyGuardian weaponisable drones. As weaponisable drones are acquired or manufactured by an increasing number of countries, are we prepared for the kind of war the future 'promises'?

Pixels, Parody and Perspective
In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared? the airborne weaponised drone is painted in small colourful squares that mimic pixels. The colours of the pixels a lolly-like - unreal, but seductive. They contrast with the fiery colours in the background, demonstrating the drone's distance from reality. Is the figure of the drone idealised? If so, what are the risks of idealisation, digital idealisation? The painting also parodies a computer generated image of a drone on a screen, perhaps a remote pilot's screen. It also references the digital imaging technology embedded in a drone's surveillance and targeting systems. Perhaps the fiery background is a war zone, either real or simulated? 

In January 1, 2020, Are We prepared?, are you, the viewer, looking down upon the drone and a fiery landscape below, or are you below the drone looking up at a hellish sky? As you fly, in imagination, around, below and above the drone 'imaginational metaveillance' returns veillance, as a kind of play with perspective, to the human. What kinds of unprecedented risks are revealed when perspective and imagination mingle? Are we prepared to not only to address these risks, but also to look for them?


Australia: December 2019 Oil on linen 23 x 62 cm 2019


* I have not included any links to the fire situation. There are many, and easy to find if you Google.

Kathryn