Tuesday, October 27, 2020


Theatre of War: Pattern Recognition Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020

Theatre of War: Pattern Recognition is the fourth painting in what is turning out to be a series themed to theatre of war. You can see the other three at Theatre of War: Smart Team

As with the other three paintings I am experimenting with depicting the technologies of war as protagonists that could be both audiences and actors. A theatre where a strange kind of dual witnessing tangles with complicity! In each painting various drones inhabit strange landscape-stages that are patterned with parodies of geolocating or terrain visualisation computer graphics - hinting at drone imaging technology. Note, I do not say drone vision!

Loyal Wingman Drone
In each painting I have included either one or more Loyal Wingman drones. The Loyal Wingman combat drone is currently in development in Australia. Its development is a collaboration between the RAAF and Boeing. Considered a 'gamechanger' in drone technology, the first test flight is due later this year.

In Theatre of War: Pattern Recognition a Loyal Wingman drone is situated towards the bottom left of the painting. Visualised signals from its various sensors and data links form a fake star around the drone. But - are you looking down upon the drone or up towards it? As regular readers know, I like to play with multiple perspectives and a sense of flying. I think I have achieved the sense of soaring flight, in this painting, rather well! Importantly, this sense of imaginational flight provides the viewer with vantage points that cannot be accessed by the drones. After all, a drone cannot imagine! Thus, there is a human surveillance of the unfolding scene or performance. I call this kind of surveillance - imaginational metaveillance. What patterns do you 'see'? 

Imaginational Metaveillance
In Theatre of War: Pattern Recognition imaginational metaveillance provides a way to think about the contemporary theatre of war as an enduring performance, potentially with no end. What kinds of patterns indicate there might not be an end? Here, I suggest things like accelerating developments in update-able weaponisable hardware and systems, arms race competition driving iterative inventions, networked and interconnected systems operating at light speed. Underlying much of this are accelerating developments in autonomous systems, where pattern recognition is pivotal for systems to undertake data identification, analysis, monitoring and more. Indeed, machine learning and AI technologies need to be repeatedly exposed to copious amounts of data in order to 'learn'. 

When I see computer terrain visualisation images I marvel at the technology, but I also feel despair that landscape is reduced to something that is strategised for optimal technological operation. Its a kind of reductive approach that disallows the human being. In Theatre of War: Pattern Recognition humanity is represented by the lone tree-of-life on a distant horizon. Is it swaying in a turbulent wind, aware of incoming forces? Is it the last audience? Or, does it indicate a new performance?


The World of Drones and Robotics Congress is on here in Brisbane, November 12-13. My presentation Drones, Art and Risk Analysis will be available online as a ten minute film. When it is available I will certainly be spreading the word! 

Being filmed for my WODR presentation



Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Strange Cloud Watercolour on paper 2020

Strange Cloud (above) is a dark cloud, seemingly impenetrable. An array of multi-coloured drones, acting as sentinels, are both protectors and deliverers of data. The drones' colours bely the darkness of the cloud as it dominates the scene. The cloud's vascular-like growth sucks from the environment, now a metaphor for data. A lone tree-of-life stands as a beacon for the commons and humanity on a distant horizon. 



I was inspired to 'curate' this exhibition after listening to globally recognised artist, author and technologist, James Bridle's recent BBC presentation Under the CloudIn this twenty-eight minute presentation Bridle "navigates the history and politics of the cloud". With inputs from other commentators, questions are raised about the cloud as a "metaphor of the internet, ethereal and fluffy - but what is it hiding?" Do listen to the presentation - it triggers a lot of questions about how we live our lives now and how we are likely to live our lives in the future.

Cloud Eyes Oil on linen 40 x 40 cm 2017

This online exhibition is a collection of paintings, where over the last few years, I have painted clouds in colours and compositions where their fluffiness is obviously a foil, a subterfuge, perhaps even a potentially dangerous seduction. Many of the paintings address some of the issues raised or alluded to in the BBC presentation. 

With my interest in militarised and militarise-able technology, my paintings depicting clouds reference surveillance, tracking and monitoring, They also speak to vulnerabilities of networked systems where platforms that are owned by a few major companies compel use and compliance under guises of ease of access, swift retrieval of data, enhanced security, speed of light transactions and more. As our awe of the system, and compliance to it, transforms into need, markets are ensured. 

Where does that place freedom? 

Cloud Eyes (Above)
Night vision green clouds clearly indicate augmented entities/systems, capturing data to be stored, analysed, and at some stage, acted upon. The eyes in Cloud Eyes are unblinking - they are not human. Here, I challenge ascribing notions of vision or seeing to machine, digital and cyber technologies - drones. They do not see, they do not have vision [literal, imaginational, dreaming] - instead - they SCOPE! And, when you think about it, 'scoping' befits the contingencies of surveillance ie: monitoring, targeting, manhunting and attack, much better than vision and seeing.... 

Follow Me, Says the Tree Oil on canvas 61 x 76 cm 2017

In Follow Me, Says the Tree I have depicted an eye painted in the sky. Its pupil is a shade of night vision green. It is an unblinking false eye, with 'lashes' that appear to be more like components from a computer circuit board. The signals that radiate from the eye penetrate through a surveillance net which is scaffolded by a night vision green CLOUD - a false cloud. 

However, what of the tree? It also penetrates the net of surveillance and the CLOUD, by reaching upwards towards the stars. It re-establishes perspective - the kind that can take humanity's endeavours into interstellar space. The tree's branching appearance contrasts with the clean lines of surveillance and targeting signals. Randomness, or seeming randomness, is presented as a complex decoy - but isn't that just LIFE! The tree not only erupts through the surveillance net, it also send roots underground. Where there's life there's hope it seems to say.

The New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

In The New Clouds I have painted airborne drone swarms as fake clouds. Just as they mimic swarming which occurs in the natural environment, they also mimic clouds. In other words fake clouds that potentially, over time, change our relationship to landscape and environment. The potential militarise-ability of The Cloud is visually and clearly inferred. Here,  targeting, based on data, includes the benign opportunism of advertisers to the more mortally important targeting by militarised forces or aberrant actors. 


From  2017 blog post:
"That THE Cloud's operations actually exist and occur as a result of material infrastructure belies the notion of fluffy vapourous clouds. Data is deposited onto multiple massive servers that require space in huge buildings. Servers suck energy - for continuous operation and cooling. And, to ensure backup, rerouting and instantaneous reaction they need connection and interconnection with cables that cross continents and oceans - the internet. The harnessing of space-based assets to assist connectivity adds another layer of material infrastructure beyond Earth's atmosphere. And, in one way or another, all this infrastructure can be used for both civilian and military purposes, thus blurring the lines between battlefield and city/home." 

Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Painted over four years ago Drone Clouds (above) was inspired by thinking about how the increasing use of militarised drones creates a kind of artificial 'ceiling' in the sky. This can be viewed as both a literal and a psychological 'ceiling'. If we develop a fearful mentality that the sky is a place of threat, what happens to the beauty of cosmological perspectives? Regular readers know I have a fascination with cosmology, and the close and far distances it reveals. Threat from the sky is something that limits a fearless desire to look beyond horizons - earthly, universal and metaphoric.  What happens if we become fearful of The Cloud?

Topography of Signals Oil on linen 57 x 57 cm 2019 

Topography of Signals
A fluffy fake cloud, painted a light shade of night vision viridian green, hovers at the bottom right of Topography of Signals . Militarised and civilian technological hardware are connected by lines that indicate signal connections - the networked society - the militarise-ability of civilian technology. I have used red and night vision green lines to indicate augmented and dangerous surveillance capabilities, and therefore, vulnerabilites. Green screens, green car windows and green credit card chips all indicate data outflow to The Cloud, seemingly benign in all its fluffiness! 

As cultural scholar Paul Virilio notes the more powerful and high performance the invention, the more dramatic the accident.”
Paul Virilio, The Original Accident, trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007), 31.

Ubiquitous Surveillance - An Invisible Landscape Oil on linen 60 cm x 110cm 2017

In Ubiquitous Surveillance: An Invisible Landscape I have visually suggested a new topographical layer of the sky, yet it could also be a new topography of the land. As with many of my paintings the viewer could be above the clouds looking down or below the clouds, looking up. As the viewer oscillates from one perspective to another, the new landscape of signals and scopic trajectories suddenly becomes an amorphous entity, capable of palpitating in multiple dimensions. Like a shadow, the viewer cannot escape it. No matter where you are the surveillance follows or perhaps catches you in its virtual web.

The presence of The Cloud is clear.

So, what do you think about Tactics, below?

                                  Tactics Oil on linen 70 x 100 cm 2017  
Data Data Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

Data Data and Cloud Storage were both painted in 2016. In Data Data signals are being received and transmitted by an ambiguous vessel-like thing - is it a cloud? In Cloud Storage (below) little boxes try to assimilate with the fluffy clouds - they are unsuccessful. Or, are they - why is one cloud outlined in red? Is it a good or bad sign? 
Cloud Storage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

And then, Data Heaven ...

At the centre of the square, in the centre of the cloud, binary code ‘instructs’ the word DATA. The fifth line of code, ‘instructing’ the letter D, indicates algorithmic continuity. The cloud looks like an eye, with DATA as its ‘pupil’. I am playing with ideas relating to THE CLOUD, big data and humanity’s increasing reliance on digital and cyber technologies. That we can exist virtually across multiple technological platforms/systems while alive is one thing, but that this virtual existence can continue after mortal death, is indicative of  - DATA Heaven, or perhaps - DATA Hell?

Data Heaven Oil on linen 100 x 120 cm 2017



Saturday, October 10, 2020


Theatre of War: Smart Team Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020

Theatre of War: Smart Team is number three of a Theatre of War series. I am not sure how many paintings there will ultimately be! You - and I - will just have to wait to see! 

Theatre of War
Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation

Loyal Wingman Combat Drones 
In Theatre of War: Smart Team I have painted three Loyal Wingman combat drones and a piloted/manned fighter jet. The Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing have collaborated to develop the Loyal Wingman drone, using Australian and international expertise. The drone is designed as a 'wingman' support for piloted/manned jet aircraft. The first test flights are, apparently, to occur in late 2020. The Loyal Wingman drone has been labelled a 'gamechanger' in military drone technology. Indeed, the weaponisable drone certainly will be equipped with a plethora of advanced capabilities that range from some autonomous systems utilising AI, swarming potential, advanced electronic and electromagnetic warfare technologies, payload flexibility enhanced by interchangeable nose cones and more. This drone represents the first Australian made aircraft for over 50 years.

The Loyal Wingman drone has been developed under Boeing's Airpower Teaming System: A Smart Unmanned Force Multiplier. 

Teams of piloted/manned aircraft and unmanned highly advanced combat drones will soon be deployed into our skies. And, these teams will be smart teams! 

You can read more about Australia's Loyal Wingman drone, plus some information about similar projects in the US and the UK, here at this article Behold Boeing's Loyal Wingman Drone for Australia-as it Rapidly Takes Shape in The Drive: The Warzone. 

Theatre of War: Smart Team 
In Theatre of War: Smart Team the aircraft are linked by painted red lines. These lines indicate signal-enabled teaming capabilities. Like any 'theatre' performance, teamwork is crucial to success. In this painting the red lines forming patterns that appear to dissect the landscape seem to suggest a stage, but is it structurally sound, is it complete, is it real? These red lines mimic terrain visualising technology that would normally be seen as a graphic on a screen. Maybe we, the audience, are actually observing something on a computer screen? Or, maybe the terrain visualisation is for the drones' scopic or geolocating requirements? If we see the painting as a theatre set, the team of aircraft hang like either a prop, or a performing protagonist. The red line stretching beyond the painting's edge can be read as a literal signal connection to a satellite or a ground control station, or it can be read as some kind of string, like a puppet's string. As a metaphor, a puppet's string, conjures some troubling thoughts about who or what is ultimately the theatre's 'director' - who or what is in control. 

Maybe we are not an audience at all, but also protagonists playing a variety of roles in the contemporary theatre of war?


Can you pick the Loyal Wingman drones in Theatre of War and Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation below?

Theatre of War Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020

          Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020

As always, I could write more, but I will leave it here, for you to ponder.

Here is a link to a previous painting and post called Wingman



Monday, October 05, 2020


Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020

Looks like I am developing a series of Theatre of War paintings. 

This new painting called Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation is linked to another recent painting and post called Theatre of War . And, I have a third painting ready to share and write about soon too. Plus a few more sheets of watercolour paper in various stages of preparation. 

Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation again references the notion of 'Theatre of War' raised by General Carl von Clausewitz's in his famous book On War. However, It is clear that the contemporary 'theatre of war' is very different to Clauswitz's late eighteenth/early nineteenth situation. Despite this, the term 'theatre of war' provides an interesting way to think about contemporary war waged not only in physical landscapes, but in discrete 'landscapes' of digital and cyber worlds. The physical and discrete merge, however, with the use of signal enabled, digital and cyber supported, militarised technologies such as air, land and sea-based robots and drones. 

In Theatre of War: Terrain Visualisation I invite viewers to fly, in their imaginations, beyond and around proliferating drones. I have painted different kinds of airborne drones against a visual parody of computer generated terrain visualisation graphics. These graphics map physical terrain in ways that can be 'read' by digital, machine learning or AI systems. The aerial perspective reveals a stage-like strip cutting across an ambiguous landscape. But, is the viewer above or below this strip, this 'stage' in the contemporary 'theatre of war'?    

Regular readers know that I will have more to say, but I will leave it here. I have started a PhD [formal and creative practice] and need to keep some thoughts for my thesis!



Friday, September 25, 2020


                                                      Is it me? oil on linen 51 x 76 cm 2020

I started this self-portrait - or is it? - earlier this year. Although I thought it was finished I have worked on it and have just finished it. 

As regular readers know, during the pandemic I have been responding to media coverage about the use of drones, and problems with creeping normalisation of drone use.* Uses have included monitoring population compliance with COVID19 restrictions, broadcasting instructions and spraying disinfectant. Other uses that have been mooted, but I am unsure if they have actually been carried out, are checking for temperatures and heart beats to assist determination of illness. Issues of facial recognition have escalated over the last few years, and the pandemic, with co-current protests around the world about various issues, has highlighted issues of privacy, AI accuracy, bias and security.

Deep Fake and GAN Technology
While Is it me? intersects with the various issues of facial recognition, drone use and contemporary surveillance, it also triggers questions about portraiture in the age of AI and machine learning. Facial recognition technology uses biometrics scoped from photographs or image data to map facial features. These features are tagged as reference indicators for identity recognition by AI systems. Deep fake technology and generative adversarial networks (GANs) produce images of people. The latter has been used to generate portraits - note I use the word generate, rather than create. A recent controversial example of GAN 'portraiture' is the auction of the Portrait of Edmund Belamy. Sold for $432,500, the image of Belamy, a fictitious person, was generated and printed after the GAN system had been fed a "data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries". Even thinking about portraiture across centuries being  called a "data set" is unnerving! 

Portrait Painting
With technology changing the ways we identify and portray people, what can portrait painting say?  Is it me? is my attempt to grapple with that question. For me, my two main characteristics are my very blue eyes and my bun at the back of my head. In Is it me? I have featured these two characteristics as dominant, as if they are standing up to the computer graphic biometric indicators that scan my face. With so many images in the media of these kinds of computer graphic markings scanning faces, my inclusion of them is a parody, but also a warning. Like our natural features, will these algorithmically determined indicators become part of our 'portrait', who we are? Historically, though, portrait painting has been far more than simple identity. Good portraits are ones that reveal a personality, a sense of spirit - whether it is joyous or not. Good portraiture can also tell a story about a person. This is often achieved by combined elements such as, whether their skin is rough or smooth, what they might be wearing, the background against which they are portrayed and expression. With abstract approaches to portraiture, recognition and story-telling are bound up in painterly gesture, placement of forms, use of colour. 

Biometric scanning, gait monitoring, and surveillance of online activity and physical movements detected through devices, can be combined to 'tell a story' too. But, the purpose of the story is often linked to tracking and targeting. The 'story' becomes data, accessible for further tracking, surveillance and targeting by civilian, corporate and government entities. In the case of military, terrorist, counter-terrorist or criminal activities, tracking and targeting take on life and death questions. The point here, is that stories imparted by more traditional notions of portraiture are more ambient, and normally less instrumentally invoked.
In Is it me? I have also included a civilian drone. Its sensors are obviously scanning my face. This is a direct response to concerns about creeping normalisation of drones used for monitoring/surveillance during the pandemic period. The red ERROR suggests this portrait, according to the facial recognition technology, is not me! A small question mark after ERROR seems to indicate that the ERROR message is wrong. The smallness of the question mark channels a sense of confusion, as if the surveillance system is not sure. The flat horizon of the landscape against which I am painted, is a reference to my story. It is the landscape of my childhood, the flat, naturally treeless, black soil Pirrinuan Plain, outside Dalby on the Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. This landscape reference is not just about where I grew up, it is also about me being an artist. The vast landscape of my childhood, where distance was my challenging playground, is still the launching pad for my imaginational flights into the cosmos. It is the foundation for my thoughts about imaginational metaveillance  

There is a lot more to say, but I will leave that up to you to think about! 

                                    Me in 2018 on a visit back to my childhood landscape

* Other posts about creeping normalisation of drone use during the pandemic

Dronescape: A Creeping Normalisation 
Border Crossings 
Watercolours for our Strange Times                                   


My submission to present Drones, Art and Risk Analysis at the 2020 World of Drones and Robotics Congress, in Brisbane, in November, has been accepted. I will be presenting with a short film of me talking, rather than in-person. 



Wednesday, September 02, 2020


Theatre of War Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2020


This new work Theatre of War was inspired by thinking about Derek Gregory's idea of 'everywhere war'. If war is everywhere, then the whole world is a 'theatre of war'. Everywhere means just that - geographical landscape, cyber and digital worlds, space and everything in-between. It can also mean time. This is possible if you think of everywhere as being about space/place as well as time/history. 

Readers of General Carl von Clausewitz's famous book On War will be aware that he writes consistently about the 'Theatre of War'. Written during the early nineteenth century, and published posthumously by his wife in 1832, it is clear von Clausewitz's 'Theatre of War' differs from twenty-first century ideas of war operation. For von Clausewitz the 'Theatre of War' was a defined geographical situation or place. Depending on offensive or defensive actions, landscape and topography played important roles in strategy, preparation, and battle.

In the twenty-first century war has morphed beyond earthly geography and topography into discrete spaces of the cyber world, algorithms, and light speed signal transmission. It has also extended into space, where orbiting satellites are now drawn into war's network. The network helps to blur the lines between military, policing and security activities. As civilian activities collapse into militarised zones, war insidiously infiltrates everywhere. The lightspeed signalic interconnected character of contemporary war operation allows for escalation or de-escalation - perhaps war of degrees - not of a duration between declaration and end (Virilio inspiration here!).  

In Theatre of War I have set up a global 'stage' with a sky/space backdrop that could extend beyond the painting, and thus, everywhere. The lines painted over the landscape's foreground 'speak' to computer geolocating graphics. The real and virtual become inseparable. In the distance an array of different types of civilian and military drones 'act' as both audience and actors. As an audience, are the drones watching us perform? This kind of dual witnessing draws everything onto the everywhere war stage/theatre. It is a place where networked systems direct everything and everyone in what could be called a tragic complicity. With war's duration consumed by the everywhere, a curtain is no longer needed. 

Do not be fooled by what might seem beautiful.   

Update September 2022
I've developed a whole series of paintings themed around the idea of 'Theatre of War'. Here are two examples. If you'd like to see more, just type 'theatre of war' into the search tab top left just below website address bar. Thinking about the concept of 'Theatre of war' is also spart of my PhD.


Friday, July 31, 2020


Top: Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Middle: Misaligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020
Bottom: Aligned? Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

Aligned or misaligned? 
I have placed these three paintings close together. While they can be viewed separately, I also see them as a triptych, each one visually playing off the other. 

I was thinking of what it means to be aligned or misaligned. With advances in AI, there are discussions and debates about how to align AI with human morals and ethics.* In terms of technology and signal transmission and reception, alignments between nodes are pivotal eg: with swarming technology, wifi connectivity enables formation alignment and mission capabilities. There are many ways to think about alignment and misalignment, for example from literal placements, for example, fences, building and public artwork, in an environment, to philosophical questions about relationships between between means and ends. Alignments of many kinds have impacts on survivability! Then there are old sayings based on superstitions, such as - because the stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things might happen.

Each of the three paintings above reflect some of my thoughts about alignment and misalignment in the age of the drone. Needless to say, they also reflect upon other issues, but alignment is the theme that is common to all three paintings. 

Drones Swarming - Seeking Alignment 
In this painting, binary code 'instructing' the word DRONE is repeatedly painted across the paper. Rather than painting actual drones, I decided to represent each drone as an algorithm. This strips away the physicality of the drone, exposing it as an advanced node in a networked and interconnected militarised system. Swarms of drones can act as their own system, creating flying meshes of networked nodes. As the technology advances, if one drone is 'taken out', a swarm will be able to re-calibrate - realign - to continue on a mission. Here, alignment could ensure lethality.

This painting plays with the superstition that when stars are aligned in certain ways, good or bad things can happen. I have placed stars with nodes that are normally in a drone's operational network. The lines connecting these nodes represent signals. However, these signals are disrupted by the stars, potentially forcing misalignment in the drone's network. Whether this is a good or bad outcome, depends on your point of view. The lone tree. my interpretation of the tree-of-life, stands as a witness.

This painting visually parodies computer graphics that might be seen, for example, on a remote drone pilot's screen. The landscape beyond the graphic-like markings is ambiguous. Is it a sky, is it land-based. Maybe it is a landscape seen through clouds? Is something targeted? Maybe the blue box with a red cross sectioning it, is a kill box? If so, has the target been located, and have friendly forces and civilians been evacuated from the kill zone? Is everything aligned for a surgical strike? What kinds of ethical questions arise? The computer graphic is not neutral.

* Prof Toby Walsh is one of the world's leaders in AI and robotics. He, like others, often speaks about the alignment issue. For example a talk recorded for the Future of Life Institute  


was recently published in Brisbane, by And Also Books. Featuring fifty authors, it is an assemblage of reflections about COVID-19. Happy to say I am one of the authors, as is my mother, Elsie Brimblecombe.


Friday, July 24, 2020


 Crossing the Border watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020 

More watercolour paintings! 
Following on from my last post Watercolours For Our Strange Times: Online Exhibition

As Australia confronts a renewed wave of COVID-19 infections, particularly in the state of Victoria, borders between states have closed again, or not re-opened. For Queenslanders, the recently re-opened border is now closed to visiting Victorians or people from accelerating hotspots in New South Wales. Many Queenslanders want the state's Premier to shut the borders again, completely.

Issues associated with borders and border controls are global and historical - colonial annexations,  migration control, refugee movement, trade, security and pandemic mitigation. Closing or monitoring borders for pandemic and disease control - for example: state, village, home, urban borders/boundaries - are not new strategies. Across history and the globe, from plague to cholera outbreaks, Spanish Flu to Ebola outbreaks, quarantining by border/boundary control has occurred. It is clearly a sensible method of disease transmission mitigation, especially when there is no known cure.

Drones - COVID-19
I am interested in the increased use of surveillance technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of particular interest is the use of airborne drones for monitoring, crowd control, spraying disinfectant, attempts to gauge temperatures etc. While perhaps laudable in intent, what happens if the use of drones for surveillance and monitoring purposes becomes normalised, and therefore enduring?

Drones Monitoring NSW - Victorian Border
The three watercolour paintings in this post are responses to recent news that police will use airborne drones to monitor the border between Victoria and NSW. This strategy has arisen particularly since the renewed outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria in July 2020. The drones will monitor parts of the border where people could cross undetected, for instance, by swimming across the Murray River. The river forms the majority of the border and presents ample opportunity to cross if someone was determined. You can read about the use of drones to monitor the NSW - Victorian border by police in articles such as these - one in The Australian  newspaper, another in the Sydney Morning Herald, and another in Australian Aviation.

I wonder if airborne drones are being used  by enforcement authorities to monitor other borders in Australia? I assume they are, or at least, being considered. Australia is a vast country with long, often remote, borders between states and territories.

Border as Metaphor
And, of course, the idea of the border as a metaphor is tantalising, particularly so when rivers are borders. Here, I think about the River Styx, in Greek mythology the border between the underworld and the world of the living. I also think about the Rubicon*. The term 'crossing the Rubicon' relates to Julius Caesar's army crossing the Rubicon River in north east Italy in 49BC. This was considered an act of insurrection and treason, and a declaration of war against the Roman Senate. Metaphorically 'crossing the Rubicon', means there is no return. I ask, what kinds of 'no return' metaphoric borders have we crossed in terms of increasing normalisation of drone use for surveillance and targeting purposes? 

Crossing the Border [above] depicts three figures in an ambiguous, but watery, landscape. Are the figures swimming or running? They are clearly in a non-urban environment, and they express a sense of urgency or agitation. Yet, they appear to have not reached their destination. It is as if their bodies link each side of the border - can they return? Here, I am not thinking of a literal return!

 Border Crossing watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020 

In Border Crossing [above] a human figure and the figure of a dog seem ready to cross a border, a watery border. But, maybe they are already half way across a river, the lines extending downwards from their bodies acting as signs of a watery wake. Or are these elongated limbs or shadows tethering them to a shore, keeping them from reaching the other side?

Monitoring the Murray watercolour on paper 32 x 40cm 2020 

In Monitoring the Murray [above] a human figure has merged with the landscape. The figure's outstretched arm, in freestyle movement, indicates it is swimming. However, the figure has become part of the river, a clever camouflage. As the figure reaches the other side of the river, three drones are surveilling. Are the drones from the underworld? 

Previous painting and post Crossing the Rubicon


Sunday, July 12, 2020


[Fig.1] Sentinel Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

This post 'exhibits' some of my recent watercolur paintings. These watercolours are a departure from my normal oil paintings. I like having departures because experimenting with different paint mediums creates a space for thought and innovation.

The paintings in this small online exhibition all respond, in one way or another, to living through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Watercolour Medium
The medium of watercolour provides a softness that is important at a time when people are anxious, in mourning, or even angry and frustrated. I use copious amounts of water, and I cannot help but think that there is something soothing about paintings created with water. Although I obviously also use paint and a brush, the water is essentially the creator - I am the vehicle.

Sentinel [Fig.1] is a landscape where a tree - a tree-of-life - stands like a sentinel on a distant horizon. I was thinking about how life copes with threats and risks. Here, the horizon is both literal and metaphoric - what horizons do we cross when catastrophe knocks at our front doors? 

Maybe one horizon is the increasing use of surveillance and monitoring technology. What limits are crossed when, for example, the pandemic gives rise to an accelerating use of airborne drones? What kinds of creeping normalisation pave way for future impediments to privacy and freedom? 

In Content Tagging: A Spoof  [Fig.2], human [Fig.3] and Shadows [Fig.4] I visually spoof the way machine learning and AI need to be repeatedly exposed to images of objects, expressions and activities, in order to learn to identify them. Words are used to tag. But, I wonder, for an AI, does the tag become the object too? In Content Tagging: A Spoof I have also referenced the story of a person, in lockdown in Malta, who used a drone to walk their dog. My earlier painting Walking the Dog, In the Drone Age was also inspired by Malta story, a story that speaks to how strangeness can morph into normalcy.

[Fig.2] Content Tagging: A Spoof Watercolur on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

[Fig.3] human watercolour on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020

[Fig.4] Shadows Watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

The three paintings below speak to the effects of isolation during COVID-19. In Watching [Fig.5] two figures are separated by distance, but also by what looks like bars on a window. Lockdown, quarantine and social distancing are mechanisms of isolation, that are monitored in various ways, including the use of drones. That lockdown, quarantine and social distancing are necessary during a pandemic is not disputed. What I query is the way new modes of surveillance, used by security and police forces, collide with those also employed by military forces. In Watching, the drone monitors the figures, as the figures watch each other. Do the figures notice the drone though?

Watching [Fig.5] on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

In People [Fig.6] a line of figures, are socially distanced, except for two figures on the far left. They maybe a couple? The ambiguous atmosphere of the painting reflects the sense of limbo and uncertainty that permeate societies as they grapple with COVID-19. The sense of limbo and uncertainty also permeates Apart and Together [Fig.7]. I was thinking about how all of us are experiencing the pandemic - that all of us are in this thing together. That our individual behaviour and how we adhere to safeguards, can affect other people, is of paramount importance. Staying apart actually helps to keep us together - alive. 

Do stay safe!

 People [Fig.6] on paper 24 x 32 cm 2020

Apart and Together [Fig.7] on paper 30 x 42 cm 2020

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?