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


No comments: