Sunday, April 26, 2020


Wingman (MQ-28 Ghost Bat) Oil on linen 97 x 115 cm 2020

UPDATE: Late March 2022 the Loyal Wingman drone in Australia will now be called Ghost Bat. Here's a Boeing Youtube Video  and an article in Defence Connect online.

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 2020: 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 2020 , 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? Let's think about  '$torm clouds' that have brewed for decades. 
  • industrialised farming causing breakdowns in natural containment of rare microbes, 
  • practices that cause pollution of our air, land and water, 
  • culinary desires for exotic animals exacerbating the potential for animal to human contagion transfer, 
  • nation-states fearful of losing face,
We are in the eye of the '$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.