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.


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