Tuesday, February 15, 2022


Theatre of War: Techno-Colonised Planet Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2022


Third Text Article

Thrilled that my article "Night Vision, Ghosts and Data Proxies: Paintings By War Artist Jon Cattapan" has been published online for Third Text, a leading peer reviewed international journal dedicated to the critical analysis of contemporary art in the global field. The hardcopy is forthcoming.

Cattapan was an official Australian war artist in Timor Leste in 2008. Key to his subsequent paintings were his experiences using night vision technology while accompanying Australian Peace Keeping forces on night patrols. The effect of the night vision green entered his paintings in ways that continue to 'speak' to us today. Thus, I analyse Cattapan's paintings through a 'future of war' lens-a future we are now living, nearly 15 yrs later. I argue that although the paintings were inspired by experiences in Timor Leste, the images could relate to the iterative modes of contemporary, and likely future war, ie: grey zone, hybrid, informational, cyber, as well as kinetic warfare.

Theatre of War: Techno-Colonised Planet 

This new painting relates to a few other recent paintings - examples: Theatre of War: Plague Cloud, Theatre of War: Dromo-Domain and Theatre of War: Law

Invitation to 'Fly'
In Theatre of War: Techno-Colonised Planet you are invited to fly, in your imagination, away from Earth. When you are ready, you peer back at the planet from a distance. And, from this distance what patterns become apparent? For me, I see a planet occupied by an insidious fake cloud that extends from Earth to orbiting satellites. The outline of the pale blue dot shimmers like a ghost behind the 'cloud'. This 'cloud' represents the ubiquitous presence of interconnected and interoperable systems, all reliant on access to, and use of, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). 

But, what if you are not 'flying' at a great distance from Earth? What if you 'fly' in closer? What if this is an image on a computer screen and you have flown through the window of a ground control station where remote operators sit in front of an array of computer screens? What if the white circles are computer graphics indicating techno-territorial occupation? Given that civilian technology and military technology rely on the same conduit and enabler, ie: the EMS - is the fake cloud an indication of dangerous synchronicity and homogeneity of techno-system operation? Does it represent an ever-ready always-on war preparedness, especially when various iterations of contemporary war are increasingly perpetrated via technological devices and systems - grey zone, hybrid, information and cyber warfare.

Whether you are flying at close or far distance -  your imagination is the critical tool. For me, this is how imaginational metaveillance works to become a resistance to the kind of normalised techno-surveillance of the world in which we live. 

As artist and writer James Bridle notes, "Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something noumenal and numinous, something almost impossible to grasp."* In Theatre of War: Techno-Colonised Planet I have tried to 'grasp it'. My invitation for you to take imaginational flight, is my way of sharing this quest.

*James Bridle, The New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (London: Verso, 2018), 6.

Saturday, February 05, 2022


Theatre of War: Law Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2022

I read a report "VISIMO and West Point Advancing Artificial Intelligence for Judge Advocates" [January 11, 2022] which provides a brief outline of research conducted to develop an AI enabled legal assistant for the military. Not surprisingly speed is the compelling issue. Here's a quote from the report

With the development of autonomous weapons, the speed of warfare is increasing. Stationed at combatant commands and Air Operations Centers worldwide, Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps members provide critical legal advice during combat, including use-of-force decision-making recommendations. However, Judge Advocates are not equipped to keep pace with modern combat.

As regular readers know, I have been interested in the issue of speed and war, speed and technology, interconnectivity and inter-operability, for some time. I often refer to cultural critic Paul Virilio's various statements and ideas about speed, particularly the harnessing of light speed [or near light speed]. In regards to AI legal assistants/lawyers, embedded into the Internet of Battlefield Things speed saves time. In doing so, in an interconnected & interoperable system, speed acts as a force multiplier. Whatever is speeded up becomes part of this force multiplication. 

Speed has become an enabler, a tactic and a strategy. It is a purveyor of weaponry, but could also be considered a weapon itself. Speed could also be considered a domain - inspired by Virilio, I call it a dromo-domain

Theatre of War: Law 
This painting was directly inspired by the article mentioned above. Like some other recent paintings I visualise a 'cloud' of circles as a parody of The Cloud, the Internet of Things, the Internet of Battlefield Things. My 'clouds' can also be interpreted as landscapes of the normally invisible ie: the connections enabled by technological interconnectivity and interoperability. These landscapes could also be pre-emptive counter-maps, surveying and revealing bourgeoning techno-colonising forces. In each of my recent paintings, the viewer can soar beyond, below, behind and in front of techno-scapes that insidiously occupy our environment. Sometimes they look like chain mail [with all its military/war implications]. 

In Theatre of War: Law the central circle is a string of binary code 'instructing' MILITARY LAWYER. This circle is connected to an array of circles, some created using the symbol for light speed ie: c, and one circle created with the symbol for photon ie: Y. This references the fact that all frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum are made up of photons, travelling at the speed of light. The light spectrum is the only frequency we can see with the naked eye. Maybe the red spot is the target?

The circles clearly extend beyond the painting, thus the central MILITARY LAWYER circle may not ultimately be central at all - is there, in fact, a centre point in an always-on interconnected and interoperable system where civilian and military assets and activities intersect? This poses questions about command and responsibility - as Virilio notes “acceleration of reality tends to reverse the principle of responsibility”.[1]

Detail Theatre of War: Law

I will leave you to ponder more. Because, of course, there are many other issues associated with AI, such as bias, unintended outcomes, accidents, nuance that can and will affect outcomes for legal assistant/lawyer tools for military use. 



[1] Paul Virilio, The Original Accident, trans. Julie Rose (London and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007), 90.