Monday, March 01, 2021


Theatre of War: Ghosts Warn Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2021

This is my sixth Theatre of War painting. The other paintings can be accessed via my post Theatre of War: Spectrum

Theatre of War: Ghosts Warn is again inspired by thinking about the famous 18th/19th century General Carl von Clausewitz's famous tome On War . In this book Clausewitz regularly refers to the term 'theatre of war', even devoting a chapter to it [Book V, Chapter II]. In the 21st century the concept of 'theatre of war' extends beyond Clausewitz's idea of a "portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence". While the idea of a portion of space, independence and protected boundaries are blurred by new modes of warfare, such as cyberwar, information war, electronic and electromagnetic warfare, I think it is interesting to ponder what the contemporary 'theatre of war' actually might mean.

For a start, Clausewitz describes journeying to a 'theatre of war' and moving within a 'theatre of war'. With contemporary modes of warfare operating across multiple domains in mind, moving to or within theatres becomes problematic, even obsolete in certain circumstances. For example, what if we ask ourselves, are we permanently within the contemporary 'theatre of war'? If so, journeying to the 'theatre' is not possible. Maybe it's more like moving across a stage, sometimes the drama can be wild, and at other times subdued.

Clausewitz also writes about 'our theatre of war' and the enemy's 'theatre of war'. The 'theatre of war' he describes is geographically based, overlaid by strategy, movement of armies, and politics.  While the politics bit remains, geography, strategy and movement of armies are part of a complex matrix of concerns in an equally complex matrix of battle spaces, where notions of 'ours' and 'theirs' are increasingly blurred, if not similar. In a world where technology renders various modes of state and non-state warfighting capabilities as continuously engaged, escalation and de-escalation can potentially occur at light speed. This includes the information war, and its partner social media. Speed is a key ingredient that helps 'conduct' and 'produce' the contemporary everywhere-all-the-time 'theatre of war'. 

Roles Played in the Contemporary Theatre of War
In the contemporary 'theatre of war' we are all wittingly or unwittingly 'playing' roles that change in type, degree and importance. If we own a mobile phone, for example, we could provide a node for a state or non-state actor to appropriate for multiple reasons. With both state and non-state actors having commensurate or near-commensurate technical capabilities, a more synchronised and ubiquitous 'theatre of war' potentially destroys a traditionally understood story arc - declaration of war, duration of war and end of war. My ideas here are informed by cultural critic Paul Virilio's commentaries on technology, Jean Baudrillard's three essays first published in the French newspaper LibĂ©ration in 1991 ie: “The Gulf War Will Not Take Place”, “The Gulf War is Not Really Taking Place,” and “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” March 29, 1991, plus David Kilcullen's very interesting recent book The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West [2020].

In Theatre of War: Ghosts Warn I have painted various elements of contemporary war ie: two drones [one a Loyal Wingman drone], parodies of geolocation and terrain visualisation technology, targets, a satellite, indications of built environments, and signals transmitting instructions, information and data. All of these either normally visible or normally invisible aspects of contemporary war create a scape that overlays a background that could be a landscape or a skyscape - are you above or below this 'production' of the contemporary 'theatre of war'? Flipping your perspective could possibly be helpful!

I have also included ghosts. Maybe speed makes everything ghostly? What are these ghosts warning us about?

I'll leave it up to you to ponder.


I was interviewed by Paris-based Cecilia Poullain for her Brave New Women series of podcasts. She asks me about my PhD, the influences of my parents, my artwork, and about being a single Mum. You can watch it here on YOUTUBE



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