Saturday, September 16, 2017


Anomaly Detection (Number 2) Oil on linen 120 x 180 cm 2017

The term 'anomaly detection' is a technical one. With contemporary technology and the help of algorithms and artificial intelligence, systems have been devised to detect unusual online behaviours, discrepancies in documentation, weaknesses in cyber systems, and unusual patterns in things like financial transactions and movements of people etc. Anomaly detection enables, in many cases, preemptive action such as isolating/fixing weaknesses in cyber systems, identifying potentially dangerous activities and malign intent. Anomalies can be detected in image, written and online data that is collected, analysed and stored. 

Where did the idea for Anomaly Detection (Number 2) come from?
The idea came after I saw a drone manufacturer's promotional video that demonstrated anomaly detection capabilities of airborne drones. This is where the drone's wide-area electro-optical surveillance systems can cast such a wide net that, for example, three vehicles travelling at speed and many kilometers apart, could be identified as aiming for the same destination. In the case of war and conflict zones this may indicate that the vehicles are aiming for a target, either to destroy it, deliver insurgents to it, or possibly protect a valuable human asset. The latter, of course, in the eyes of those watching may be considered a high value target - HVT.  

So in Anomaly Detection (Number 2) I have turned the surveillance back onto the drones; in this case three weaponised Grey Eagle drones. I am suggesting that imagination can deploy its own wide-area - even cosmic - surveillance capabilities to question whether technologies designed to detect, monitor, surveil and target, are really beneficial for humanity and the planet. In this painting the three drones seem to be aiming for the same destination - the pale blue dot. Here, I am drawing upon Carl Sagan's term for Earth as it was seen in a photograph taken by spacecraft Voyager 1 as it started to leave the solar system in February 1990. The photograph showed Earth as a small pale blue dot situated within and against a myriad of other shining celestial entities. Earth is blue because we have water, and oxygen in our atmosphere; signs of a planetary environment that can sustain life. The three drones in Anomaly Detection (Number 2) potentially threaten the pale blue dot

Anomaly Detection (Number 2) poses a few questions about the vulnerability of humanity and Earth's environment in an age of accelerating technological development. The drones can be seen as literal threats or a metaphor for a society seduced by technology, or exhausted by it. The three drones are painted as if they are pixelated, thus representing their reliance on, and use of, digital and cyber systems. The pixels also suggest a kind of virtual reality, mimicking images seen on computer screens, either those used by drone operators or those used for war games and simulations. There is plenty of room for anomaly detection!

New Sky
The drones are also painted blue to reflect upon the way vertical threat creates a new sky. This is particularly so in places such as Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan where drone operations and attacks have made people fearful of the sky. In an age where Voyager 1 now travels in interstellar space, the fact that people on Earth are afraid of the sky, is an indictment on humanity. 

Anomaly Detection (Number 2) is another of my dronesscapes, but it is also a cosmic landscape provoking and pushing perspective, of all kinds, beyond Earth, even beyond the solar system - and - possibly this universe!  


In 2014 I painted Pale Blue Dot [below]

 Pale Blue Dot Oil on linen 120 x 160 2014

Anomaly Detection
I recently painted another Anomaly Detection painting [below]. It is a work on paper, depicting three weaponised Reaper drones aiming for the tree-of-life. 

Anomaly Detection Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


Sunday, September 10, 2017


Drone: Enduring Presence (Meta Landing) Oil on linen 30 x 40 cm 2017

Here is a painting of an airborne drone. It is armed with two guided missiles and four Hellfire missiles. Its wide-area electro-optical surveillance system is identified by the darker red spot under its nose. The drone's wheels are down, as if readying to land, or perhaps readying to take off. However, although there is an indication of a landing tarmac, its appearance is ambiguous. It presents as if it is an illuminated field, but one with a translucent, non-material appearance. It could be a number of things - a lit landing field, an indication of the drone's pervasive surveillance capabilities - or - even a symbol of pervasive threat.  

If it is an illuminated landing field, the drone appears to be landing in the sky. The landing field, therefore, connotes a kind of cosmic one. This implies an almost imperial prerogative over the sky. If the illuminated area under the drone indicates its pervasive surveillance capabilities, the empire building prerogative is made even more intentional. That the illumination wraps around the drone gives the appearance of an almost godly or at least, a celestial quality. Certainly, empire building seductions...However, presented this way, the drone is clearly a false god and a false star. In either case - a warning.

There is a lot to think about and say in this age of fast paced drone and autonomous systems development. Apart from the technical aspects, which are quite remarkable, there are contingent social, ethical and political ramifications, especially regarding weaponised technologies. If you believe that war is always inevitable, the continuing development of weapons' systems is also inevitable. Hand clapping stuff for weapons' manufacturers and neo-liberal market forces that reach into the future in ways that militarise imaginations. Hence the 'meta landing' idea presented in the title of Drone: Enduring Presence (Meta Landing). A 'meta landing' goes well beyond simply landing on a tarmac in a military base. It represents a landing into consciousness and the future.

I wonder what it would be like if we seriously posed questions that related to the idea that war is not inevitable. In the small chance that it is not inevitable lies a future for humanity that is radically different to the one driven by beliefs that war is inevitable. 


Saturday, September 02, 2017


An Invitation to Fly  Oil on linen 40 x 50 cm 

When I was a child I flew! Yes, I did. 

Somehow, I knew what my parent's farm looked like from above. This was without flying over it in a plane. Also, the farm was on a flat treeless plain, so there were no hills to gaze down upon my childhood landscape. Although my Mum grew a beautiful garden on the flat plain, there were no really tall trees to climb high enough to gain an aerial view. My Father's HAM Radio aerial was probably the tallest thing on the farm - and - it was far too difficult to climb, especially to the top!

I flew!

How I flew I am not sure, but certainly my imagination had a part to play. And, it continues.

Over the years my paintings give testimony to an ability to 'transport' myself above and beyond a landscape, local and planetary! The aerial perspective is one of the common themes that runs through my work. So, it is not hard to understand why I am interested in cosmology, the scientific study of the universe across all temporal and spatial scales. Additionally, my interest in airborne militarised drones and their increasingly autonomous capabilities can be contextualised into themes of aerial perspective. However, I try to elevate myself beyond the reach of the drone to turn the gaze back onto it - in fact - to roam around the drone - above, below, beside it - taking cosmological perspectives. By doing this, I invite the viewer to also play around with perspectives. [Please browse through other posts to see more of my 'dronescapes'].

An Invitation to Fly recalls my childhood daydreams and imaginings. Relentless blue skies, occasionally dotted with white fluffy clouds, seemed to invite me to fly. The flat western horizon often shimmered with mirages that melted land and sky into oneness. This certainly helped to generate a feeling of being aloft, as if the ground had slipped away, leaving me hovering. 

An aerial perspective, even a cosmic one, though, can help us orient the way we perceive threats to our planetary environment and the plants and creatures that inhabit it. These creatures include us human beings. As Carl Sagan's commentary on the famous "Pale Blue Dot" photograph notes, for the current moment there is nowhere else for us to call 'home'*. Sustainable interplanetary squatting by humans is some time away! More specifically the increasing colonisation of the skies by surveillance and lethally equipped drone weaponry disrupts perspective by creating a layer of threat that impedes access to cosmic perspectives, even imagining them. If the sky is 'falling in', as it metaphorically does in conflict places such as Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it is an indictment on us all - especially in an age where astronomers and cosmologists are discovering more about our universal environment - which may actually be a multiversal one. 

An Invitation to Fly could be an invitation to you. It could be my childhood memory. But, maybe we are already flying and we are gazing down upon Earth - is it actually Earth? Or. are we on Earth gazing upwards, about to take off? 

* My painting and post Pale Blue Dot