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!


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