Thursday, July 27, 2017

RESEARCH INTO DRONES: HOW IT HAS INFLUENCED MY CREATIVE PRACTICE

Dronescapes in my storage drawers


About ten days ago I submitted my Master of Philosophy thesis. For the last nearly two years I've spent most days at my desk at the University of Queensland, School of Communication and Arts. In the evenings and some weekends, I spent time in my studio, painting. It was here that I worked through my research in a different way. Regular readers will know, it has been quite productive!

My university research was focused on  how two Australian artists, George Gittoes and Jon Cattapan, represent contemporary militarised technology in their paintings. Particular attention was paid to their responses to using night vision technology, and in the case of Gittoes, witnessing the deployment of airborne drones. I examined the various moral, ethical and political questions raised by their work. I won't write too much about this aspect of my thesis - as I am looking into publishing articles about each artist. If they get published, I shall let you know!

ART HISTORY - And OTHER DISCIPLINES
Although I was in the Art History department, my research crossed into other disciplines, including Cultural Studies, International Relations and Political Science. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed technical research into militarised drones and night vision, and other cyber and digital technologies associated with their operation and deployment. 

The technical research, coupled with cultural, legal and philosophical critiques of militarised drone technology, inspired my own creative work; my out-of-hours responses to the pictures that popped into my head as I read book after book, article after article, explored drone manufacturer websites, and delved into the history of drone technology and night vision. 


Larger Dronescapes in my map drawers



CREATIVE PRACTICE - ACADEMIC RESEARCH
But, this kind of inspiration is not a departure from my interests prior to commencing my M. Phil. For example, my earlier paintings depicting strings of binary code reflect interests in contemporary technology, and its effects on humanity and life. By juxtaposing code with the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life these earlier paintings also reflect my responses to ideas about existential risk posed by emerging technologies. At uni I had to narrow my topic to specific contemporary technologies. Thus, the focus on militarised technology - drones and night vision's association with increasing surveillance. 

My academic research topic came out of my painting practice - and it has fed back into it. My creative work completed during the last nearly two years is not part of the degree in a formal sense, but I consider it a major contributor to processes of critical thinking and the generation of new ideas. These have influenced both my academic research and my creative inspiration.

BODY OF WORKS ON PAPER
As the photos above demonstrate, I have a lot of paintings to show for my near two years of study. Actually between 80 -90 paintings, some smaller and some larger. They are all works on paper, because I knew oil painting would take too long and I'd be torn between spending time in the studio and at university. Neither activity would have benefited from this! These works on paper, though, track my research processes in ways that enabled spontaneous reaction to the research. The whole experience was really rewarding.

I'd love to exhibit these paintings. Curatorially there are a few aspects that could be developed!

A few exciting things happened during my study with regards to my own paintings. 

  • My work was featured by the Center For The Study of the Drone, Bard College, New York - Portfolio: Dronescapes by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox 
  • My work referred to by Dr. Kate Kindervater from Dartmouth College in her review of Dr. Ian Shaw's book Predator Empire
  • My painting Gorgon Stare heads Dr. Christopher J Fuller's post on Yale University Press's Blog Yale Books Unbound in the lead up to the publication of Fuller's book See It/Shoot It
  • My painting The Tree of Life Sends its Energy Underground is on the front cover of The Australian Women's Book Review 27, no 1 and 2. Additionally my article “Airborne Weaponised Drones and the Tree-of-Life” was also published.
  • My painting Red Rain is on the cover of HECATE 42/1 (2016) and an article by me is included in the publication.

RETURN TO OIL PAINTING
The photo below is of two stretched canvases. Yes, the aroma of turps has returned to the studio and house. 




NEWS
My entry, Universal Code, for the inaugural $35,000 Ravenswood Australian Women's Art Prize has been selected as a finalist. The Award is announced on August 4.

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, July 20, 2017

THE NEW CLOUDS

The New Clouds Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017



I've previously painted airborne drones as 'clouds' and here is another painting where clusters or swarms of weaponised drones create cloud-proxies in the sky. 

I am playing with ideas of fluffy clouds that literally dance around our skies - and - THE Cloud where, with a click or two on our various cyber devices, we share and send photos, documents, data etc to be 'stored' remotely in ways that are accessible to us. But, who or what else can also access our data? 

TARGETING
In my mind, are also thoughts of targeting! Here, in The New Clouds I've 'targeted' one of the drones and it erupts in flames. But, the remaining drones continue with their proxy 'dances'. They do not seem to detect that they are being watched - by you and me. Here, I've attempted to turn pervasive surveillance, with its targeting agenda, back onto the drones. We - you and me - could be everywhere - above the drones, below them, in front of them or even behind them! 

THE CLOUD
With regards to THE Cloud, it offers another kind of opportunity to 'target'. Advertisers, corporations, governments and so on, can access data that includes our online patterns of behaviour, to 'target' us with goods, services and promotions. There's a plethora of uses for this kind of data - and it is not always as benign as an advertiser targeting your Facebook page with Landrover Discovery ads moments after you have searched online for your dream car! Yes, I am keen on Discos - the old version.

That THE Cloud's operations actually exist and occur as a result of material infrastructure belies the notion of fluffy vapourous clouds. Massive servers require space in huge buildings. Servers suck energy, and they need to be connected and interconnected with cables that cross continents and oceans to ensure backup, rerouting and instantaneous reactions. The harnessing of space based assets to assist connectivity adds another layer of material infrastructure beyond Earth's atmosphere. And, in one way or another, all this infrastructure is used for both civilian and military purposes, thus blurring the lines between battlefield and city/home. 

AWARENESS VERSUS DETECTION
Like the drones in The New Clouds, are we oblivious to the pervasive surveillance into our daily activities? The drones cannot be aware or unaware, because they are not sentient. Their sensor systems simply detect or not. Yet, we have powers of awareness, but are we using them? Do our devices, constantly accompanying us in our pockets, our handbags and embedded in our cars etc transform us into nodes in a system that ultimately renders awareness obsolete and detection capabilities pragmatically more efficient?



The New Clouds is another of my dronescapes or cosmicscapes - or - maybe it's a skyscape? Whatever it is, it reflects upon the technical, philosophical, political and historical research, into contemporary militarised technology, I have undertaken for my Master of Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Happy to report that I submitted my thesis this week! And, I have around 90 works on paper, completed over the last nearly two years, that track my research progress. Now to find somewhere to exhibit them!

---------------------------


NEWS
My entry, Universal Code, for the inaugural $35,000 Ravenswood Australian Women's Art Prize has been selected as a finalist. The Award is announced on August 4.


Cheers,
Kathryn



Drone Clouds Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016


Cloud Storage Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016


Sky-Drone-Net Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

CROSSING THE RUBICON

Crossing the Rubicon Gouache on paper 67 x 56 cm 2017



POINT OF NO RETURN
The term 'crossing the Rubicon' means, being at the point of no return. Historically there is a background story. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar's army crossed the Rubicon River in north east Italy. It was considered an act of insurrection and treason, and a declaration of war against the Roman Senate. 

When I painted the new work above, I was also thinking about the event horizon, a cosmological term to describe the 'point of no return' at the entry of a black hole. However, a black hole emits nothing, not even light, and my new painting reveals a fire - is this a hopeful sign? 

FIRE - HEAT - LIGHT
Despite the fire in Crossing the Rubicon indicating light, the tree-of-life seems threatened, not by a black hole's event horizon, but by another kind of possible point of no return. This point relates to climate change commentary regarding global warming. At what point will it be too hot for humans, and other creatures and plants, to survive? Will we all have time to adjust? Or will we be like the proverbial frog placed in water that is brought to the boil - not noticing how hot it is until too late! Should we develop extremophile characteristics? Maybe we are already mutating? Extremophiles are organisms that survive in extreme environments and temperature conditions. Fascinating critters! Yet, maybe transformation into transhuman/robotic entities is the only way we might survive?

In Crossing the Rubicon a tree-of-life is drawn towards a place where it suddenly erupts into fire. However, whilst fire is destructive, it can also symbolise renewal. Maybe the point of no return can be avoided or maybe it triggers something else, another way of being? Maybe the point of no return, 'crossing the Rubicon', is about social and political will? 

Crossing the Rubicon may indicate no return, but it does not negate a future - of some kind. 

COSMIC LANDSCAPE
Crossing the Rubicon is another of my cosmic landscapes. You could be looking down from space upon a literal landscape, maybe not even Earth! Or, you could be looking up at a 'spacescape', witnessing cosmic events unfold. Or, maybe looking into a landscape - somewhere. Cosmic perspectives offer intriguing ways to view ourselves, our planet and our universal environment. 



Please check out COSMIC FIRE and THE BODY POLITIC

Cheers,
Kathryn

Saturday, July 08, 2017

THE BODY POLITIC

The Body Politic Gouache on paper 76 x 56 cm 2017


THE TERM 'THE BODY POLITIC'
The term 'the body politic' is used as a metaphor to describe a nation, a sovereignty, a corporation where people are organised, or considered as a group, subjected to laws pertaining to notions of citizenry. 

In a globalised world 'the body politic' can be considered as being all of us. 

The notion of a body to describe a group of people, and the systems that organise them, is intriguing. There is a fascinating history - but that's another post! 


THE HUMAN SECURITY FORUM
I've been stimulated to think about 'the body politic' after attending a terrific one day workshop "The Human Security Forum" hosted by Griffith University and facilitated by Dr. Samid Suliman, here in Brisbane, Australia. One of the presenters was a visiting scholar, Dr. Stefanie Fishel, from Alabama University, USA. Her book The Microbial State: Global Thriving and the Body Politic  is launched this month. [Check it out for the historical and philosophical background to ideas of 'the body politic' too]. 

After hearing Dr. Fishel speak at the workshop, and a few days later at an event hosted by the Queensland School of Continental Philosophy, the metaphoric capabilities of the body [human and non-human] were expanded, but also made more material. In making the metaphor more material, the body's relationship with its environment became more evidently important - for survival. In the age of the Anthropocene, this opens up more penetrative ways to think about 'the body politic's', ie: humankind's, relationship with Earth, the atmosphere and space. As I have previously written, Earth is our home, but the universe is our environment.* By blurring the lines between body and environment, making porosity evident, it becomes evident that they are interchangeable. This interchangeability is metaphoric, visceral and corporeal.

Ah, Ha! The spiritual notion of oneness has a catalytic essence, amongst others - of course! 


TREE-OF-LIFE
So, after mulling over ideas that popped into my head as I listened to Dr. Fishel, the age-old transcultural/religious tree-of-life symbol kept returning to me [regular readers will not be surprised!] as a motif that straddles the nano and the vast, linking body and environment. As the tree's branching appearance mirrors our human body's internal systems it also mirrors water, plant and landscape systems of Earth. The branching phenomena, above and below the ground, is also reflected in our eyes, on the palms of our hands and in finger prints. Other animals share body functioning traits, as they also share this planetary environment with us. Further afield, the tree's branching appearance is reflected in images of space, from nebulae to even large scale computer simulations of the structure of the universe. And, one wonders about multi-universes as branches and roots from a primordial 'tree' of no end or beginning! 


THE PAINTING - THE BODY POLITIC 
In The Body Politic I have painted another of my cosmic landscapes. The 'body' of the 'landscape' is on fire. This 'landscape' represents all kinds of environments, from the body itself - to a personal address - to a cosmic one - and more. The fire could be taken a couple of ways. Is it a destructive fire, or is it symbolic of renewal? The trees-of-life, moving up the centre of the painting, inhabit what I'd imagined as a kind of airway through the fiery 'body/landscape'. Here, the trees act as filtering follicles that keep air moving, making individual and collective breath possible. That trees literally produce oxygen is a key to the osmotic relationship between breathing bodies, the environment and even organisational concepts, such as the 'body politic'.

The Body Politic can be read as a 'landscape' of a human body - even a slice of it - like an x-ray or other internal views, such as a MRI scan. It could also be read as an multi-perspectival view of a literal landscape. Are you looking into this landscape, almost caught? Or are you above it, looking down upon it, like a remote pilot operating a drone, monitoring successful strikes? Or, are you below it, looking up towards a fiery atmospheric battlefield? Maybe it's a cosmic sky - a future 'scape' of the demise of the sun and the solar system, with the trees representing our scattered star dust - the foibles of human politics now meaningless...?

DATA-PROXY 'BODY POLITIC'
From a technological point of view, the branching appearance of the tree, also mirrors human-made systems, such as computer circuitry. In fact, the tree's branching system is used to 'visualise' flows of data, behavioural patterns and other information. Artificial intelligence systems incorporate what is called 'tree-logic', based on ideas of decision and learning trees. In the age of digital and cyber technology, the 'body politic' extends into realms of technology, where the 'body' is no longer living, but is presented, in subterfuge, as a re-assembled data-proxy. That's another post!

Cheers, 
Kathryn

P.S. Check out this article in The Conversation written by Assoc. Prof Anthony Bourke and Assoc Prof. Stefanie Fishel Politics for the Planet: Why Nature and Wildlife Need Their Own Seats at the UN.


* Selection of other posts where home and environment are mentioned.