8-10 December, 2020
UNSW Media Futures Hub
Drones swiftly moved from the margins of the military to reshape war and surveillance, but they have also had wide-ranging effects on fields as diverse as wildlife conservation, agriculture, visual art, climate activism, urban policing and television production. Drone vision is rapidly transforming visual culture, generating novel aesthetics, changing how the world is witnessed and enabling new capacities to see, know and control. At the same time, drones themselves have become objects of significance, eliciting anxiety and hope, fear and desire. Unsurprisingly, diverse cultures have sprung up alongside and in response to their proliferating presence and growing accessibility. All this makes it crucial to understand the similarities, differences and complexities of these technologies and their impacts on how we sense, feel, know and act in the world.
This three-day symposium brings together academics, artists and researchers to explore drone cultures from multiple perspectives and practices with the aim of generating dialogue across disciplinary boundaries to better understand the diversity of drones and drone cultures. How has drone vision influenced contemporary visual culture? How do practices, aesthetics, techniques and technologies move back and forth between military and non-military contexts? How have artists, writers and filmmakers critiqued, adopted and innovated drone technologies? How have drones changed how power is exercised and experienced? What cultures have sprung up around drones in conservation, activism, amateur photography and other contexts? How are drones and other remote sensing systems shaping and shaped by our desires and imaginaries? What does the proliferation of drones mean for the future of the human?
Due to COVID-19, Drone Cultures will take place via Zoom. Registration to the 3-day event is free, and open to the general public.
Registrants can register for either the Keynote Presentation with Caren Kaplan, or for the entire three-day event (including the Keynote, Plenary, and Panels).
To register via Eventbrite, click here
Caren Kaplan (UC Davis)
Sensing Everyday Militarisms: Tracing the Transnational Circuits of “Pandemic Drones”
Tuesday, 8 December, 9am (AEDT)
Perhaps it was inevitable that the emergence of a global viral catastrophe would engender media stories about “pandemic drones.” Amid the reports of small drones delivering medicine to remote locations or, facetiously, dropping off wine bottles to vacationers stranded on cruise ships, and the ubiquitous use of drones to record images of emptied cities under lockdown conditions, we can discern other significant signs of the intersection of transnational capital, regional and global conflicts, and operations of political and cultural power. Advocates of drones laud their precision, persistence, flexible mobility, and low-cost efficiency. These capacities undergird their burgeoning use in humanitarian and policing projects and in fields such as environmental and earth sciences along with industries as widely varied as agriculture, logistics, entertainment, and news media. Yet the Coronavirus era reminds us all too pointedly that the same aerospace and electronics industries that produce the drones that are in use in the violent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh or in Yemen are akin to those being marketed to domestic police forces, coast guards, and private entities. When we trace the transnational circuits of “pandemic drones,” from Martuni, Azerbaijan to Westport, Connecticut to Mobile, Alabama to the Sea of Japan and elsewhere, we begin to sense the “everyday militarism” that structures air power in general and unmanned aerial vehicles in particular.
Caren Kaplan is Professor Emerita of American Studies at the University of California at Davis. Her research draws on cultural geography, landscape art, and military history to explore the ways in which undeclared as well as declared wars produce representational practices of atmospheric politics. Selected publications include Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above (Duke 2018), Life in the Age of Drone Warfare (Duke 2017), Introduction to Women's Studies: Gender in a Transnational World (McGraw-Hill 2001/2005), Between Woman and Nation: Transnational Feminisms and the State (Duke 1999), Questions of
Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Duke 1996) Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minnesota 1994) as well as two multi-media scholarly works, Dead Reckoning and Precision Targets.
Click here to view a recording of the Keynote
Thursday, 10 December, 11.30am (AEDT)
The increasing use of high-technology military drones in the conduct of warfare has removed people’s embodied and psychosocial experiences of war from public view and understanding (at least in the West). When the harmful effects of drone violence on people are recognised and communicated, this is mostly within the confines of quantitative data such as civilian casualty statistics. This paper argues that applying a relational approach to examining drone violence uncovers a far wider range of psychosocial and material/economic harms inflicted in drone violence. Focusing on U.S. drone violence in Afghanistan, it contends that the social relations between U.S. Air Force drone personnel and Afghan people living under drones need to be understood as relations of domination. These relations of domination (re)produce racism, sexism, poverty and social alienation, and are psychosocially and materially/economically harmful. To develop these arguments, the paper draws on interviews undertaken in Afghanistan, refugee camps in Greece and the United States in 2017.
Alex Edney-Browne recently submitted her PhD in International Relations at the University of Melbourne. Alex’s PhD thesis examined people’s lived experiences of drone violence in rural Afghanistan and the U.S. Air Force. More specifically, it analysed the social relations between Afghan people and U.S. Air Force drone veterans, and the
psychosocial and material/economic harms produced in those relations. Alex undertook fieldwork interviews in Afghanistan, refugee camps in Greece and the United States for this research. Her broader research interests are in war and violence, security, counter-terrorism, legacies of colonialism and race and gender in international politics.
A Relational Analysis of US Drone Violence in Afghanistan
Tuesday, 8 December
9 - 10.30am
Keynote: Caren Kaplan (UC, Davis)
10.30 - 11.30am
Welcome & Social Morning Tea
11.45 - 12.45pm
Lunchtime Screening: A Drone Opera & Q+A with artist Kate Richards
1pm - 2.15pm
Panel 1: Drone Militarisms
Imaginational metaveillance: Aesthetic defiance in the drone Age
Drone countercultures: Militant craftivism against macroscopic surveillance
Louder than Bombs
Drone xeno-aesthetics: Machine invisibility in the era of computational Clausewitz
The swarm: Drone as composite technology
Wednesday, 9 December
9 - 10am
Panel 2: Drone Sensors
The Drone Sensorium
Precision: A very American desire?
10 - 11am
Panel 3: Drone Concepts
Simon M. Taylor
Drone errors and alien rules
Posthuman bordering: the borderwork of drones and virtual borders
11 - 12pm
Morning Tea and Drone Arts Screenings
12 - 1.15pm
Panel 4: Drone Arts
Anne Wilson, Cameron Bishop and Shelley Hannigan
X-Marks the Spot; Seeing Not Looking
Michele Barker and Anna Munster
Ecologies of Duration
1.15 - 2pm
Thursday, 10 December
9 - 10am
Panel 5: Drone Ecologies
Bird's eye view: From surveillance to the verge of extinction - critical narratives of inter species relations
Seeking the Invisible: One researcher's experience with shared engagement using underwater drone camera technology
Adam Fish and Edgar Gómez Cruz
10 - 11am
Panel 6: Drone Methods
Flying Underground: An ethnographic view of the Melbourne personal drone scene, 2014
Drones and Deep Mapping for Cultural Heritage Visualisation
Drone studies: Fused geospatial and emotional response data-visualisation
11 - 11.30am
11.30 - 12.30pm
Plenary: Alex Edney-Browne
12.30 - 1.30pm
Lunch & Closing Address
A Drone Opera
A Drone Opera is a poetic and visceral expression of the contemporary abstraction of unmanned flight and our new reality of constant surveillance. This cinematic installation presents a uniquely seductive world featuring custom built drones with live video feeds, laser set-design, opera singers and an original libretto that combine to explore our broader love affair with technology. Loosely structured around the myth of Icarus, A Drone Opera provides a lens through which to view the promise of new technology and our hubris about its potential, while fragments from Ovid’s The Fall of Icarus are sung at key moments to drive a loose narrative of desire, fear and destruction.
Directed by Matt Sleeth; Produced by Kate Richards; Written and Edited by Sleeth and Richards.
Kate Richards is a Sydney-based new media artist, producer and academic. Her media art works have widely leveraged most new media platforms and channels, from generative software to interactive projections and VR. She has exhibited at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, The Performance Space, Carriageworks, the Blake Prize Director’s Cut, The Australian Centre for Photography, The Centre for Contemporary Photography Melbourne, the International Symposium for Electronic Art Sydney, Belfast and Helsinki, Experimenta, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Sydney Opera House amongst others. As a new media dramaturge, Kate has brought her considerable experience to theatre groups such as Sydney’s Urban Theatre Projects and Stalker. Kate has also produced multimedia projects for a variety of clients including Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Sydney Olympic Park, The Australian War Memorial, Landini Associates, the Museum of Sydney and the Justice and Police Museum. Kate’s recent projects include a WebGL environment for Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education; a 5 min VR using archival hand tinted images of Sydney’s The Rocks; consulting on a VIVE VR project for Urban Theatre Projects and designing/producing a drum simulation environment for Paramedics.
Panel 1: Drone Militarisms
Drone countercultures: militant craftivism against macroscopic surveillance
Drones have emerged as “signature devices of contemporary power” (Noys, 2018), which led to the development of new paradigms of warfare based on precision and visibility. Shifting the fields and scales of vision, the use of optical, radar and infrared imaging has necessitated changes in military tactics, as well as advancement of deception techniques. One such device is a camouflage net – in use since the First World War, it conceals large military objects and armed encampments from macroscopic sensors. From a relatively simple artefact, modern camo nets are designed to provide ‘multispectral’ protection, hiding both the soldiers and their respective digital footprint from adversary reconnaissance systems. Yet, the military are not the only actors producing and utilising camouflage nets: in Ukraine, it has become a central object of the militant craftivist movement – a large-scale civilian effort to resist the creeping occupation of the country by Russia. Blurring military and non-military contexts, thousands of precarious activists gather in public and private spaces to craft camouflage nets from old and discarded materials, creating a crafting counterculture for counterintelligence. This presentation extends the cultural history of camouflage and mimicry to understand the place of militant craftivism in the age of macroscopic surveillance.
Dr Olga Boichak is a critical social theorist of digital media and a Lecturer in Digital Cultures at the University of Sydney. In her research, she fuses ethnographic and computational methods to illuminate the social and cultural implications of the use of digital media in military conflicts. Dr Boichak holds a doctorate in Social Science from Syracuse University and has published on the use of digital media in identity building, international migration, legitimizing state power and transnational activism. She is currently working on a book project that explores the impact of data-centric technologies on the conduct and perception of wars.
Imaginational Metaveillance: Aesthetic Defiance in the Drone Age
Although the airborne militarised drone is a visible and material harbinger of 21st century surveillance and targeting technology, its enabling signals, transmitted to and from land-based, sky-based and space-based assets, are immaterial and invisible. I argue that the invisibility of signals represents a stealthy techno-colonisation of landscape and extended environment, a volumetric occupation that heralds new modes of empire and power. In this presentation I discuss paintings where I depict airborne weaponised drones, nets of signals and parodies of screen-based orienting and targeting graphics. Viewers of my paintings are invited to ‘fly’, in imagination, into cosmic scapes where techno-colonising forces are revealed. Untethered, viewers can ‘fly’ around and beyond drones, their enabling signals, their land-based and space-based support infrastructure, and their surveillance or attack targets. I call this multilayered oversight or witnessing an act of imaginational metaveillance, a ‘veillance’ that does not operatively rely upon digital or cyber systems and platforms, but can keep them and their enabled hardware firmly in 'sight'. What kinds of anomalies, futures, power structures and empires are revealed when human vision in its fullest – not only seeing with eyeball and pupil, but also in imagination, dreams, daydreaming and visionary thinking - is critically engaged?
Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox is a Brisbane-based visual artist and researcher. She has exhibited her paintings in Australia and overseas. Kathryn has also presented talks about her paintings and research at various conferences in Australia and internationally. Kathryn is a PhD candidate at Curtin University, Western Australia. She completed a Master of Philosophy (Cultural Studies and Art History) at the University of Queensland in 2017. Her research included extensive studies of airborne militarised drones, persistent surveillance and increasingly autonomous systems. This focus came out of a long-term interest in existential risk posed by emerging technologies. Kathryn is currently an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland.
Louder than Bombs
Armed ‘unmanned’ aerial vehicles or ‘drones’ became the emblem of United States’ War on Terror for their technical ability and ethical imperative to threaten and actualize violence from a distance with no or minimal casualties (Der Derian, 2009). The surgical and precision-strike capabilities of the “hunter-killer” drone allowed for a macabre celebration of ‘counterterrorism’ for being what Derian (2009) calls a ‘virtuous war’. And yet this triumph of technical expertise and feat of modernity as encountered and experienced in spaces where they were deployed speak of a different war – a unilateral relationship with a ‘god-like’ device (Chamayou, 2014) that rained down Hellfire missiles, so aptly named, on populations marked for death (Mbembe, 2003). This paper expands on the sensory and embodied encounter with this ‘god-like’ device in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, where drone strikes began in 2004 and continue to inspire fear by their presence, to argue for a theoretical reframing of drone ‘warfare’ as torture and the spaces they are deployed in as torture rooms (Scarry, 1985), constructed through affective deployment of the sound of low frequency drones (Goodman, 2010). Thinking this way allows us to move away from the discourse on the drones’ capabilities of minimizing casualties and focus instead on their ability to inspire terror and cause ‘invisible’ body damage through lingering physical and psychological injuries and permanent trauma among communities living under the shadow of drones. Scarry’s conception of torture also allows us to consider the unspeakability of violence and understand why acts of witnessing, vocalizing, testifying and remembering are also acts of resistance and healing.
Sarah Eleazar is a PhD student of Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Sarah works on social movements, victimhood and marginalization in Pakistan. Sarah's interest in drones stems from my journalism reporting on terrorist attacks and social movements emerging in the wake of state responses to terrorism. Sarah has been a reporter and editor for various English newspapers and international publications for almost ten years. With this particular project, Sarah began with the question of how the people of Pakistan’s former tribal areas encountered the drone when drone strikes began in the early 2000s.
Drone countercultures: militant craftivism against macroscopic surveillance
The notion of the vision machine is embedded in our popular cultural fictions and most laudable scientific explorations (from Minority Report to ATLAS to Neurallink). The machine sees the machine knows but the mechanics are, for the most part, invisible. And so, it is that we have come to understand the drone; a convergent device of computation, engineering and vision technologies, designed for an imminent array of autonomous futures.
The military drone, beyond regulation and oversight and seemingly impervious to moral scrutiny has of course been with us for some time. It represents the apex of military and corporate endeavour, the coalescing of political will (or a lack thereof), advanced engineering, computational intelligence and human labour. Concepts such as 360-degree battlefield, patterns of movement, kill lists, permanent over-watch – and even the notion of a space force – all operate within a linguistic blend of fantasy, menace and ambition to which the automated drone is a central figure. Further still, through a post-Snowden prism, we now have a better understanding of how governments and their military clients and the divisions which they serve might operationalise the possibilities of fully autonomous weapon systems. This in turn will help define what full automation might entail in a grouped setting: the swarm. Coupled with our cultural understanding of the swarm – rampant A.I., replicants, clones, etc - the multitude of machine rendered forms that the drone swarm might assume supposes a dystopic vision of not only the battlespace, but also in the domains of transport, policing, space exploration, commercial delivery, migration control and mass surveillance.
Like so much of the current debate around the ethics of machine learning and algorithmic profiling, drones and their robotic kin are similarly riddled with ethical and moral conundrums. For the most part, these are playing out in our fictitious dramatizations of technology – in the cinema, in the gallery and in the literature – making the drone one of the early 21st Century’s most provocative cultural icons. Further to this, the concept of swarming automata becomes particularly resonant in the context of drone futures and our darker vistas of the techno-cultural imaginary.
To understand the drone then is to prepare for the swarm. This paper will frame the complex cultural evolution of the drone against a global socio-political backdrop of surveillance, remote-warfare and climate collapse. Using key works from cinema, corporate advertising, military doctrine and media art it will demonstrate that the convergence of automation, machine vision and A.I. has become a central trope of our interpretation of what it might mean to be human in a near-future habitat fit for the swarm.
Mitch Goodwin is a media artist and academic with a research interest in emergent media ecologies and digital aesthetics at the University of Melbourne. An interdisciplinary academic, he has published in the fields of curriculum design and interdisciplinary education as well as cultural studies, media arts and digital anthropology. Some of Mitch's work can be found on The Conversation and at MC Journal.
Mitch has presented at SXSW Interactive (Austin, TX), the Art Association of Australia (GOMA, Brisbane), the David Bowie symposium (ACMI, Melbourne) and at the Australian Anthropology Society in which he interrogated the ethics of drones and autonomous systems. His media work has screened widely, including the IEEE VISAP (Baltimore, MD), Lumen Digital Arts Prize (Cardiff), MADATAC (Madrid) and the WRO Media Arts Biennale (Poland). He is currently developing two monographs, Digital Gothic, which is an examination of digital culture at the turn of the millennia and The Atmospherics of Automation, which is an anthropological study of cultural responses to A.I. and automation in the second machine age.
Drone Xeno-Aesthetics: Machine Invisibility in the Era of Computational Clausewitz
This paper will explore the Xeno-Aesthetics of the Drone, specifically the paradox of the visual system which itself is invisible. The Drone exists in an ecosystem of computation, neural networks, programming, and data stored in an architecture of human exclusion. The Drone is also cyber-threatened and subject to electromagnetic and energy pulse threat. All these processes and interactions not only integrate Drones into a wider ecology of potential cognates, at the same time as they are all for intents and purposes aesthetic not perceived, and not visual to, the human eye.
When we aestheticise a Drone vision, we over emphasise a cyclops-style singularity, not the metamodern oscillation of information computation.This paper argues that the Drone is part of an emergent alien Clausewitzian topological interstice, thereby exploring the Aesthetics of the Alien Drone, and of alienation in the inhuman combined with the automation of cognition, where the Drone is part of cybernetic reflexive network. Reverse engineering Drone aesthetics this way reveals an Alien agency in the Drone as opposed to the anthropogenic aesthetics we have emplaced within its nose cone.
Tom Sear is an Industry Fellow in Cyber Security, UNSW Canberra Cyber at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). He has advised parliaments and industry on social media manipulation, counter influence initiatives, IoT and 5G policy, and worked as a cyber security practitioner in government. His research concerns how to build resilient national computational cultures to defend against active measures, manipulation and cyber storm. Tom led data analysis projects to analyse cross platform nation-state social media propaganda influence operations during elections, including cross lingual work with WeChat. Tom has a long association with the international Special Operations network, including a current collaboration with Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), USSOCOM, MacDill.
Panel 2: Drone Sensors
The Drone Sensorium
While the first wave of drone scholarship was pivotal in initiating the debate on the emergence and routinization of this technology, this scholarship can also be said to have privileged the idea of the ‘scopic regime’ when analyzing the connection between vision and power in the context of drones. Researchers have defined the scopic regime of the drone as a militarized regime of hyper-visuality executing a vertical, hierarchical, and totalized power relation between the drone operator and the surveilled target (Gregory 2011, Chamayou 2015, Shaw 2016, Noys 2017, Holland 2019). Whereas the scopic regime is certainly key to describe drone vision, this presentation aims to broaden the drone’s spectrum of perception with the notion of the sensorium as complex, multi-medial, synesthetic sensing assemblage, in which the human agent is enmeshed with the drone’s technical apparatus (Suchman/Weber 2016, McCosker 2017). Drone sensoria can sense in many more ways than the scopic regime suggests, as drone vision can be blurred, flattened, rasterized, three-dimensional, and swarm-like. This talk will discuss different drone sensoria in the aesthetic realm and investigate examples of recent drone art (films, visual art, literature). As much research focuses on military drone vision, this paper explores the sensorium of civilian, commercial, and amateur drones; although being highly aware that military and civilian remote sensing technologies can be deeply intertwined (Jumbert/Sandvik 2017, Jackman 2015, Klauser/Pedrozo 2015, Jablonowski 2017).
Kathrin Maurer is a Professor of Humanities and Technology at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). She earned her Phd from Columbia University and her Dr.Phil (Habil.) from SDU. Her research interests are in visual culture, remote sensing technologies, aesthetics, and literature. She became interested in drone technology since she worked on representations of war in literature and culture. She is also the leader of the research network Drones and Aesthetics and the research cluster Drone Imaginaries and Communities sponsored by the Danish Research Council. She is also the leader of the Center for the Humanities and Technology Studies at SDU and has given over 60 international lectures. She has also organized a large international conference Drone Imaginaries and Society in 2017 at SDU.
Operative images are products of computational tracking technologies functioning
without human intervention.1 Such technologies routinely enable systems to become
equipped with means that gather, compute, merge, and display visual data in real-time.
Nevertheless, the world such systems visualize and interact with is always
predetermined: calculated, archived and waiting in loom. Once ‘activated’, operative
imaging systems discriminate automatically and do so ad-infinitum. They only halt if
they run out of processing power or, even more rarely, when they breach the limits of
their exponentially expanding databases.
The operative image arguably heralds the emergence of an operative order of the
world in terms of its universal method of articulation: image processing software. This
new world finds its ideal expression in the autonomous electronic processing logic of
guidance systems; in automatic warheads, drones, autonomous vehicles, medical
(operating-thetre) robots or immigration check-points. Two types of operative images
can thus be distinguished; images that illustrate a function (or possible meaning) to a
human receiver/perceiver, which are mostly promotional expressions or technical
propaganda, and images produced exclusively for non-sentient reading. The former can
be called pseudo-operative, the latter true-operative. The two differ greatly not only in
terms of their level of abstraction but also in terms of their aesthetic qualities.
Yanai Toister is an artist, curator and scholar currently serving as senior lecturer at the
Multidisciplinary School of Art and Director of the Unit for History and Philosophy at
Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Israel. Toister’s artwork has been shown at venues including Kunstahalle Luzern; the the 11th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennial; Kunstmuseen Krefeld; Fotomuseum Berlin; Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Israel Museum. Toister’s writing has been published in various catalogues and journals (including Mafte’akh Lexical Review of Political Thought, Philosophy of Photography, CITAR, Ubiquity and Photographies). Toister’s forthcoming book will be published by Intellect/University of Chicago Press.
Precision: A Very American Desire
Precision has often been understood as a modern concept, usually associated with the Gulf War, Kosovo Campaign, or modern ‘Drone Wars’. This paper, however, argues that a uniquely American reaction to the horror of the First World War led to the development of a moral and strategic desire for precision airpower. The argument is that this ambition has been a significant, if not always achievable feature of American strategic thought, which has evolved over the last one hundred years. Thus, this study broadens and challenges accepted assumptions. An intellectual history method has been adopted for this study and a social constructivist theoretical standpoint provides the framework. The ‘idea’ and ‘abition’ of precision, as espoused by strategic thinkers during selected periods, is the focus of study. The project traces precision back to the dawn of American military air power in 1916. It analyses the Second World War with a study of United States Army Air Force (USAAF) precision bombing doctrine and examines the Cold War through a study of American nuclear strategy. The paper concludes with an Applied History of precision warfare. Here the lessons, legacies, and pitfalls of ‘precision’, as revealed by this study, are used as a lens through which contemporary precision and drone warfare can be analysed and critiqued.
James Rogers is DIAS Assistant Professor in War Studies, within the Centre for War Studies, at SDU, and Associate Fellow within LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics. He is currently Special Advisor to the UK Parliament's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones and a UK MoD Defence Opinion Leader. He has previously been a Visiting Research Fellow at Stanford University, Yale University, and the University of Oxford. James is the Co-founder and Co-Convenor of BISA War Studies, the War Studies section of the British International Studies Association. His work has appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the International Journal of Human Rights, International Peacekeeping, History Today, BBC History Magazine, and BBC World Histories (amongst others).
Panel 3: Drone Concepts
Simon M. Taylor
In Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1972) while orbiting a sentient ocean, a scientist reads Historia Solaris—a compendium of scientific failure to understand the unknown planet. First contact was made by specially designed remote monitoring apparatus, but somehow the ocean participated in its readings. It modified submerged instruments. It disrupted recordings. It initiated a profusion of signals—most defeated all attempts at analysis. To decipher this information, computers were built of virtually limitless capacity, robots deployed, spectral imaging, mathematical models and abstruse branches of statistics. But as a source of electrical and magnetic impulses did the ocean itself produce purposeful machine stimulation?
On the 8th of March 2014, a Boeing 777 aircraft operating as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was lost—presumed crashed in the Indian Ocean. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) coordinated an extraordinary water-based search. Underwater drones were deployed to survey over 120,000 square kilometres via sonar imaging, new cloud-based architectures, data algorithms for automatic detection. The plane was never located. In the ATSB Report data gaps in sonar were classified according to terrain challenges, drone malfunction, ghosted imagery and spectral imaging anomalies. This monitoring from
the non-human imaging operations rearranged, according to Gil-Fournier and Parikka, “techniques of time and images, pushing further what counts as operatively real.” (Gil-Fournier & Parikka, 2019)
As Lem argues throughout Solaris, the episteme of scientific consitution is not simply from apparatus, action plans, robot directives and salient features but a history of science as modes of pathology. What is at stake in the technical assemblage is our relational ontology to scientific explorations. Although the MH370 wreckage is yet to be found, by using Lem’s scientific imaginary of non-human imaging at its limits, this paper traces it's enquiry through the ATSB operational report to reveal drone disorientation as a form of discovery to lost machines, ghosted images, ‘a technically induced hallucination of probable events’.
Simon M Taylor is a PhD candidate at the School of Arts and Media UNSW. With a technical background in bio-medical sensing and immersive audio environments his dissertation investigates case-studies where an automation of technical perception is involved [i.e. operational imaging, robotic sensing, algorithmic quantification and pattern recognition]. Using methodologies from history and philosophy of science, media archaeology and critical data studies, he is interested in how machines learn to autonomously interpret and misinterpret data across ‘domains of life’ (Louise Amoore, 2019) and possibly disrupt tacit knowledges, legal attributions, identifications and risk assessments. A main concern is reformations of human capacities and shifts in power relations from distributed intelligence, bio-technical capita and media infrastructure. Recent presentations at ANU Money Lab, AOIR Brisbane and 4S New Orleans. He is a member of Cambridge’s Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Histories of AI: A Genealogy of Power 2020—2021.
Posthuman Bordering: The borderwork of drones and virtual borders
While work on borders has moved from a ‘line in the sand’ (Parker & Vaughan-Williams, 2013) to consideration of how borders are constitutive and shape subjectivities (Brambilla, 2015; Rumford, 2012), the focus of such borderwork has been predominantly human-centric, with an overwhelming empirical body of work on migration. Yet borderwork and bordering practices can also encompass the virtual and the non-human. The possibilities of post-human bordering raise many questions about materiality, subjectivity and how violence can be enacted in physical and non-physical ways. This paper will explore the parameters of virtual space and bordering practices through a number of developments that integrate security, violence and space in technological terms. It does so through an examination of the possibilities of virtual borders, which are being proposed as security solutions on the US-Mexico border in addition to physical fences or walls. The so-called ‘smart wall’ works through drones and sensors to monitor human subjects transgressing physical borderlines, but how does such technology alter our relationship to space and violence? Understanding the function and implications of such post-human technologies and their promise to ‘secure’ also extends to other ways in which violence can be imagined and enacted, and how it remakes humans as subjects. In particular, the function and ontology of drones in this form of virtual borderwork (such as ‘kill boxes’ and virtual policing) will be examined in relationship to post-human thought.
Christine Agius is senior lecturer in international relations and politics at Swinburne University. Her research interests are broadly in the field of critical security studies, with an interest in drones, bordering practices and gender, as well as Nordic politics and security, identity and ontological security. She has published three books (one sole-authored: The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality, 2006, Manchester University Press; one co-authored: The Persistence of Global Masculinism, 2017, Palgrave and one co-edited: The Politics of Identity, 2018, Manchester University Press). Her work has also appeared in Cooperation and Conflict, Security Dialogue, Postcolonial Studies and Political Geography.
Drone Errors and Alien Rules: Rethinking error from event to structure
Errors are typically conceived as an arbitrary event; a miscalculation or misjudgement, deviation from an established, predicted, or proper course. This definition carries through into drone studies and studies of technology, where error is theorised through the drone crash (dysfunction), signal failure (interruption), and as the flawed interpretation of data (miscalculation). Much of the literature on drone error, moreover, elaborates this definition as it attempts to formulate a more robust conception of error and technology: here, error is more than a technical glitch, but has material significance, too. The drone error is conceived as a suspended moment in time, one that brings to light the inextricable entanglements of drone, human agent and milieu. As an event—a material revelation—drone errors expose, through technological failure, the agential confluences that implicate a multitude of forces that exceed the drone itself.
However, despite admissions to the expansive and deeply imbricated networks that both produce and are exposed by drone error, this paper argues that the notion of error as event is limited in the following ways: Firstly, although central to complicating the binaries of subject/ object, human/ technology, error as event nonetheless conceives error as intermediary or instrumental. Secondly, within this conception of error, important social and political implications concerning individual agency and responsibility are sidelined.This paper demonstrates that error can be understood as more than simply event, but as structure. Exploring error in different contexts, including case studies on drone crashes and military drone targeting, as well as the exoneration of error through the ‘trial and error’ logic of computer vision precision training, this chapter traces the contours of a theory of error as structure. It makes the claim that conceiving error as structure requires a radical rethinking of error beyond the logic of cause and effect.
Madelene Veber is a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), under the supervision of Prof Vicki Kirby and A/Prof Melanie White. Madelene’s research explores the relationship between knowledge, order and error in the approaches of social systems theorists. Madelene is also the recipient of a number of awards and grants, including the Australian Government Research Training Scholarship, and the University of New South Wales Arts of Social Sciences Honours Thesis Publishing Award.
Panel 4: Drone Arts
Anne Scott Wilson, Shelley Hannigan and Cameron Bishop
'X' Marks the Spot
Seeing Not Looking
‘X Marks the Spot’ and ‘Seeing Not Looking’ are art works that explore tensions between Artificial and Human Intelligence. Using an inverted game technology, in which the performers become active participants ‘seen’ by an automated drone camera, power relationships rise to the surface over time. Problems inherent in the notion of AI thought of as communicative, are challenged, raising questions about what is it to be human when measured or surveill-ed by drone technology. By presenting video excerpts of both works I would like to talk to these problems through an analysis of the artistic decisions made in each work and what is revealed through practice led research.
Dr Anne Wilson is a senior Lecturer in Deakin University’s School of Communication and Creative Arts. She is an artist, curator and her initial research into the dichotomous relationship between movement and meaning, the years of strenuous practice and endurance relative to the brief moments of glory in performance extends into the impact of Artificial Intelligence on how and why we move, its effect on the imagination and identity. She is a member of the research group VACANT Geelong.
Dr Shelley Hannigan is a Senior Lecturer in Deakin University’s School of Education. She is a visual artist and arts educator. Her research explores the value of art in:artistic practice, creativity, wellbeing and education. Methodologies she engages are mostly: arts-practice-based research, Arts-based education research (ABER), narrative inquiry, autoethnography and duoethnography. She also conducts research in interdisciplinary education including art-science and STEAM. Her publications are in high quality Q1 international journals, conference proceedings and books.
Dr Cameron Bishop is an Associate Professor in Art and Performance in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University. He is an artist, writer and curator who has exhibited (often collaboratively with Bishop and Reis) widely for 20 years and published extensively on the subjects of public art and protest, institutional critique, and our relationship to new and old technologies. He has curated a number of public art projects including Treatment, Six Moments in Kingston, VACANTGeelong and Sounding Histories.
Anna Munster and Michele Barker
Ecologies of Duration
Ecologies of Duration is comprised of several infinitely looped moving image works, using up to three monitors, that have emerged from experimentation with drones: filming in close proximity to trace geoformations; developing techniques in which the moving image appears to both zoom in and recede from its ‘target’; and filming in visually obscured natural circumstances such as fog or mist. Each ‘ecology’ (each pair of monitors) presents a doubled view ‘from below’ or alongside nonhuman ‘natural’ landscapes’. These ‘ecologies’ try to imagine a nonhuman nonaerial drone scape and together ask: how else might drones see? In the panel presentation, we will discuss the making of these works in the context of the above problems posed by an ongoing aesthetics of the aerialised earth.
A/ Prof Anna Munster
Anna Munster has been at UNSW Art and Design since 2001 on a full-time tenured basis. She is an active researcher with two sole published books: An Aesthesia of Networks (MIT Press, 2013), and Materializing New Media (Dartmouth College Press 2006). She also edited Immediation I and II ( OHP Press 2019). Her current research interests are: statistical visuality and radical empiricism, the politics and aesthetics of machine learning, more-than-human perception, new pragmatist approaches to media and art, new media art environments and ecologies; time, movement and sonicity.
Anna is the lead CI and partnered with Adrian Mackenzie (Australian National University) on a 3-year ARC Discovery Project: 'Re-imaging the empirical: statistical visualisation in art and science'. She is also currently a CI on the ARCDP 'The Geopolitics of Automation'. led by Ned Rossiter out of Western Sydney UNiversity. She was a partner in a large international project, Immediations, hosted by Concordia University, Montreal and funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Canada. She has held two ARC Discovery research grants in new media and art: 'The Body-Machine Interface in New Media Art from 1984 to the Present, 2003–5' and 'Dynamic Media: Innovative social and artistic uses of dynamic media in Australia, Britain, Canada and Scandinavia since 1990'. She was also an investigator on an ARC Linkage project, 'Australian Media Arts Database', which resulted in the Scanlines national media arts database.
She is a founding member of the online peer-reviewed journal The Fibreculture Journal and has co-edited two special issues on Distributed Aesthetics and Web 2.0. and on the editorial advisory board of LeonardoBooks (MIT Press), Inflexions, CTheory, Convergence, Scan and Screen Bodies
Dr Michele Barker works in the field of new media arts, exhibiting extensively both in Australia and overseas. Barker has contributed to the field of new media arts extensively via her engagement as a research-oriented practitioner. Her artwork addresses issues of perception, subjectivity, genetics and neuroscience, and her research has focused on the relationship between digital technologies, medical and scientific applications, and end-user responses.
Michele Barker and Anna Munster have been working in multi-channel audiovisual environments exploring the relations between perception, movement and media. Their most recent work was the solo show, all the time in the world, 2019 for Ideas Platform, Artspace, Sydney. In 2017, they were commissioned for a multichannel audiovisual environment, pull, for Experimenta Media Arts: Make Sense, 2017–2020. They have been awarded New Work Grants, in 2012 and 2010 from the Australia Council for the Arts to realise their work. Other projects include: évasion (2014), HokusPokus (2011). Duchenne’s smile (2-channel DV installation, 2009), Struck (3-channel DV installation, 2007).
Drone warfare adumbrations in Robert Smithson’s Site/Nonsite artworks
Robert Smithson was a seminal American artist and writer known for pioneering the Land Art movement in the 1960s and early 70s. This presentation will explore the parallels between Robert Smithson’s famous Site/Nonsite dialectic and the methodology of drone warfare.
This paper's analysis of Smithson’s Nonsite artwork, Gravel Mirrors with Cracks and Dust, investigates why it was encountered by Chesworth as a reification of drone warfare. To this end, this paper compares Smithson’s 'Nonsite' framing concepts with ‘systems’ processes, in which alternative concepts of site exist in cybernetic oscillation, whereby a site is ‘understood’ through a virtual site (a Nonsite). I assert that systems processes inform Smithson’s Nonsites but that the artist deliberately introduces experiential and conceptual paradoxes, which systems methodology normally seeks to eliminate.
Earthwork’s two images of site: one framed within the other, can be thought of as alluding to systemised relations between Site/Nonsite. Earthwork attempts this by representing relationships between actual and virtual sites similar to those encountered in a theatre of war. In this artwork, the actual site is represented by a destroyed Western suburban landscape (supplanting the location of the Iraq desert), and the virtual site is represented by the smaller nested image of data sets and mappings that allude to representations and conceptions of the actual site based on collected data.
David Chesworth is an artist and composer who creates installations, artworks, and music in a wide range of contexts. His video artworks with Sonia Leber are speculative and archaeological, responding to architectural, social, and technological settings. Their artworks have been exhibited at the Venice and Sydney Biennales, Art Gallery of NSW, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the National Gallery of Victoria. They recently had a major survey of their practice that toured to galleries in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
In 2018, David received a doctorate from Monash University for research into ontologies of engagement. David is currently a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Art, RMIT University.
Panel 5: Drone Ecologies
Seeking the invisible: One researcher’s experience with shared engagement using underwater drone camera technology
How do we engage with areas of the underwater environment that we cannot easily see? Can bearing witness through active engagement with technology inform and guide us to protect our watersheds and oceans? What narratives are created and reiterated through immersive engagement? My research considers these questions and examines methods for community engagement with the environment through technology and storytelling. While working on a case study of dam removal and the recovery of landlocked salmon and their primary spawning tributary in Northeastern Vermont, I realized the need for a more dynamic and mobile way to safely capture imagery of the fish and wildlife in the deeper sections of the river and lake. In my quest for a mobile underwater camera, I discovered a new technology in the “prosumer” (professional and consumer) market: An underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) camera, aka an underwater drone. In this short video and provocation, I trace the initial stages of working with this technology (struggles, frustrations, excitement) and the discovery that what begins as a personal journey becomes a story of shared experiences as I bear witness to people’s emotional reactions with a tool that gives them access to an environment they have never seen. -Jennifer Smith-Mayo.
Jennifer Smith-Mayo is pursuing her Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Studies, with a focus on environmental communication, at the University of Maine in Orono, Maine. Her advisor is Dr. Bridie McGreavy, Assistant Professor of the Department of Communication and Journalism. Jennifer is exploring how immersive technology and storytelling may offer ways for communities to engage more deeply with the environment, especially our streams, lakes, and oceans. Jennifer’s extensive background as a freelance photographer and videographer guides and informs her research. She lives in Maine with her husband, author Matthew P. Mayo, and their rescue pup, Miss Tess.
Birds eye-view: From surveillance to the verge of extinction - critical narratives from interspecies relations.
This paper looks at the new interspecies relations forming through contemporary cinema and photography between animals and UAVs. This paper explores and questions - through representations in media and cinema - the ways in which the relationships between animals and drones are fundamentally shaped by the asymmetric surveillance technologies from which UAVs originate.
Although UAVs were originally invented as military devices controlled by trained human
operators, today drones are becoming more and more autonomous. The triangular
relationship of Man-Animal-Machine is shifting its gravity toward the Animal-Machine
relationship, with the human presence in this equation moving fast out of the frame.
The politics of this image making process and especially its effects on many of his silence
subjects, the animals, are mostly hidden. Drones are becoming a dominant presence in
different habitats while the animals themselves are assimilated and at the same time
disavowed, exiled and annihilated. This presentation follows this appropriation of animal
territories and traits by drones, yet instead of seeing drones as potential replacements for
animals on the verge of extinction, looking with them at the possibilities for partnerships
we can form with the species around us.
Jack Faber is a filmmaker and PhD researcher at Uniarts Helsinki. Jack has published two novels before starting exhibiting site-specific installations and videos for
solo and group exhibitions in museums, galleries and public spaces. His film project Watchmen (2005 - 2015) became an international juridical precedent after
years of censorship, and titled 'a groundbreaking Surveillance Artwork' by the press.
Dutch cultural institutions commissioned his work during his studies in the Netherlands
Film Academy, and his thesis project won both the prestigious Jury Prize and the
Audience Award at the Torino Film Lab 2015.Working with drone recordings, salvaged footage, CCTV documentation, archival materials and original scripted materials, his works give insights into practices of creative disobedience and shed positive light on the cartography of critique.
Adam Fish and Edgar Gómez Cruz
Field sciences are rapidly adopting drones to collect images of organisms, landscapes, and geological formations. Similarly, drone photography and video festivals have emerged to celebrate the novel vantage points which unpersoned aerial vehicles offer and a growing number of enthusiasts and amateurs are acquiring drones, using them to collect images of their travels and lives.
Scientists, artists, and amateurs exploit the drone for similar reasons. The drone’s verticality and mobility; the drone camera’s fluidly and multispectrality; the image’s size and richness; and its safety, convenience, and relative democratization--in relation to costly and dangerous helicopters--have made drones popular representational technologies across diverse communities. Our argument is that despite the different methods, subjects, and applications, drone science, drone art, and drone amateur photography share remarkable similarities. The elevated, motile, networked, and high-definition images show the effects and scale of the Anthropocene--the current geological era marked by human impacts. Because of the size of its impact, its aesthetic contrasts, and the emotions it evokes, the Anthropocene is particularly susceptible to being represented in scientific, artistic, and even amateur image-making. The drone, this paper argues, is the quintessential imaging system for the transelemental effects of the Anthropocene.
To support this argument, this paper analyzes a prototypical index of Anthropocene impacts. Cetaceans or whales are not only charismatic megafauna whose ascent to public consciousness was coordinated with the rise of environmental activism in 1970 with the first Earth Day and the publication of the Songs of the Humpback Whale. By cycling nutrients in the oceans, whales are integral to the health of the ocean and the production of oxygen in the atmosphere. Drones have made possible new methods in oceanographical sciences to ascertain the health of whales’ bodies. Drones also allow new artistic practices of recording the situatedness of whale’s lives in increasingly anthropogenic seas. Finally, drones are allowing amateurs to explore the seas through the atmosphere, increasing data intimacies between people and whales.
Adam Fish is an associate professor and Scientia Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, School of Arts and Media, University of New South Wales. He is a cultural anthropologist, documentary video producer, and interdisciplinary scholar who works across social science, computer engineering, environmental science, and the visual arts. He employs ethnographic, participatory, and creative methods to examine the social, political, and ecological impacts of new technologies. He has authored three books including Hacker States (MIT Press, 2020, with Luca Follis), about how state hacking impacts democracy; Technoliberalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), an ethnography of the politics of Internet and television convergence in Hollywood and Silicon Valley; and After the Internet (Polity, 2017, with Ramesh Srinivasan), which reimagines the Internet from the perspective of grassroots activists,citizens, and hackers on the margins of political and economic power. He is currently writing a book for MIT Press on the use of drones in conservation and activism.
Edgar Gomez Cruz is Senior Lecturer in Media (Digital Cultures) at the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW. He has published widely on a number of topics relating to digital communications, particularly in the areas of digital photography, digital culture, ethnography and visual culture. His recent publications include the book (in Spanish) From Kodak Culture to Networked Image: An Ethnography of Digital Photography Practices, a co-edited volume with Asko Lehmuskallio: Digital Photography and Everyday Life. Empirical Studies on Material Visual Practices (Routledge, 2016) and several articles on digital photography and ethnography. Edgar’s current research investigates different manifestations of visual culture and vision, exploring innovative and creative methods, which is funded by a Vice-Chancellor research grant.
Panel 6: Drone Methods
Drone Studies: Fused Geospatial and Emotional Response data visualisations.
This paper focusses on practice-based research conducted as part of an artist residency at Holocenter, New York in 2017. In this residency, a prosumer DJI Mavic drone was used to navigate Governor’s Island. While piloting, Wozniak-O'Connor's emotional response was recorded via Galvanic Skin Response, correlated to individual flights.
Instead of mapping emotional cartographies, my practice-led research uses biofeedback to complicate geospatial data. This suggests an expanded idea of drawing, which parallels the transcriptive associations of gestural drawing. In gestural drawing, the body’s emotional state is transcribed through the hand affect the drawn mark. This configuration of civilian drone tracking and biofeedback data works to a similar extent; using embodied data to intervene into the legibility of geospatial tracking data recorded during drone flights. In doing so, this paper attempts to reemphasize the role of the body within geospatial data, which is largely absent in pervasive geospatial interfaces such as Google Maps. In drone piloting, the body actively produces geospatial route data, which is registered in Keyhole Markup Language as innumerable controller inputs and button toggles. However, the traces of the body are ghosted by the data visualisations, to which Wozniak O'Connor's practice-based research intervenes. By examining practice-experimentation, this paper outline expanded drawing practices that emphasize the presence of the body within emerging drone technologies.
Vaughan Wozniak- O’Connor is an artist and digital holographer based in Sydney.
In particular, his work has explored artist-led approaches to terrain visualisation and geospatial tracking technologies. Recent research has explored the technical and theoretical convergence of terrain and biometric mapping technologies, combining GPS with data from wearable devices such as the Fitbit. Vaughan has exhibited extensively locally at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Carriageworks, C3 Contemporary, Firstdraft Gallery and Casula Powerhouse. International exhibitions and residencies include Holocenter (USA), BKZ Studios (Germany) and Museu da Cidade de Aveiro (Portugal), with grants from Parramatta City Council and MGNSW. He is currently undertaking a PhD Media Art at UNSW Art and Design/Built Environment.
Drones and Deep mapping for Heritage Visualisation
This paper explores the use of 3D drone mapping as part of the complex visualisation workflow of an archaeological site in Serbia. It explores not only the application of photogrammetric and orthophotographic techniques to the development of site data and interpretation of the site, but the logistical and cultural challenges faced in deploying a drone in a politically sensitive area.
Andrew Yip's research explores applications for immersive visualisation and experimental digital technologies to the preservation and interpretation of important cultural heritage sites, collections and museums. His is interested in how we can use new media platforms to create new, embodied sensory experiences that allow us to understand heritage in innovative ways. I'm also interested in the mechanics of immersive design.
Andrew works closely with the GLAM sector on digital conservation, exhibition design and interaction design projects. His 2018 exhibition Henry VR at the AGNSW was the Gallery’s first virtual reality and conservation science exhibition, which used VR technologies to not only communicate complicated scientific data to large audiences, but to enable conservators to analyse and interpret cultural material in new ways. Similarly, his 2017 exhibition Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Unmasked: Virtual Reality allowed Heide Museum of Modern Art to communicate the social history of the Heide site and the significance of Nolan’s practice to Australian identity and mythology through the experimental installation.
Flying Underground: an ethnographic view of the Melbourne personal drone scene, 2014
Today personal drones, also termed as remotely piloted aircraft systems under two kilograms gross weight, are a rapidly maturing technology that can be considered ‘mainstream’, but, as recently as five years ago, such technologies were deemed nascent, as was the regulatory environment governing conditions of use, hence creating an underground subculture. This presentation, using case study, video documentary and reflections on personal practice, undertakes an auto-ethnographic examination of the Melbourne personal drone scene in 2014 and investigates the challenges faced by the then fledgling and emerging drone communities that were using personal drones for recreational purposes. ‘Recreational purposes’ is a term used by CASA, Australia’s civil aviation safety and regulatory authority, that encompasses remotely piloted aircraft usage that is not deemed military or commercial. In the civilian realm this encompasses sport, recreation, and creative applications where flying is increasingly of secondary concern.
David Beesley is a media professional, documentary film maker, and technical services manager with the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University. He is presently completing his PhD ‘Head in the Clouds: documenting the rise of drone culture’, which is a project-based longitudinal ethnographic documentary looking at the significance of personal drone cultures in Melbourne, Australia.