Monday, February 24, 2020


Lethal Landscape Gouache on paper 57 x 76 cm 2018

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. 


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

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.

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!


Science fiction stories are often prescient.

Space Net Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 17

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...


In the meantime, I paint....

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


* 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


     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!