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Virtual Public Seminar Series
A UNSW Media Futures Hub Event

Drones are crucial to the future of war, but also to everything from policing to agriculture to conservation. Drones are reshaping how the world is perceived, how people are governed, and how power is enacted and resisted. Yet they remain elusive, thanks in part to their diversity, constant evolution and, in the military context, their invisibility.

Drone Futures brings together leading artists, humanities and social science scholars whose research intersects with the emerging field of drone studies. From the neo-colonial violence of contemporary wars in the Middle East and Africa to the strange histories of unmanned aerial vehicles to activist uses in struggles for justice, this seminar series looks to the past and present to think into the future. By showcasing inter-disciplinary scholarship, it aims to spark new connections and inspire debate about how to build more just drone futures.


Drone Futures seminars will be streamed live to YouTube, where participants can converse and post questions through the comments function.

Registration is free and open to the public.

Aug 12

Ronak K. Kapadia

10am - 11:30am AEST

University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Insurgent Aesthetics: Queer Calculus and the Forever War (2019).

 Antoine Bousquet and Jairus Grove

Sept 2

5pm - 6.30pm AEST

Birbeck, University of London, author of The Eye of War: Perception from the Telescope to the Drone (2018)

University of Hawai'i, author of A Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World (2019)

Sept 23

 Katherine Chandler

11am - 12:30am AEST

Georgetown University, author of Unmanning: How Humans, Machines and Media Perform Drone Warfare (2020)

Oct 14

J.D. Schnepf

5pm - 6.30pm AEDT

University of Groningen

Nov 13

Thomas Stubblefield

10.30am - 12pm AEDT

UMass Dartmouth, author of Drone Art: The Everywhere War as Medium (2020)

Nov 26

Mahwish Chishty

10am - 11:30am AEDT

UMass Amherst, artist

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August 12   |   10 - 11.30am (AEST)

“On the Skin: Drone Warfare, Collateral Damage, and the Human Terrain"


Ronak K. Kapadia

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

This seminar will explore Kapadia's research into the contemporary multimedia art works by Iraqi American artist Wafaa Bilal and American artist elin o’Hara slavick, as a meditation on how the violence of US imperial and aerial warfare across the long twentieth century has devastated humans, animals, and social ecologies in the Greater Middle East.

Bilal is best known for a performance in which he lived in a gallery for a month and was shot with paintballs by remote internet users watching through a webcam. His other works include a twenty-four-hour endurance performance in which the artist tattooed a borderless map of Iraq onto his back and another in which he surgically implanted a surveillance camera onto his skull for a year. Kapadia's reading of Bilal’s performances highlights the critical role of touch, embodiment, and the senses in forging what Kapadia terms a “queer calculus” to analyze the effects of US counterterrorism and their toxic afterlives. elin o’Hara slavick’s drawing and painting series Protesting Cartography or Places the United States Has Bombed offers an important intertext to Bilal’s corporeal mappings by confronting our collective failure of imagination about what bombs do to populations, bodies, and topographies. Working from an eclectic archive of military surveillance imagery, aerial photographs, battle plans, and maps, slavick reimagines these landscapes in watercolor paintings to compose a shadow atlas of largely uninterrupted US aerial bombing campaigns since the 1940s.

Together, these artists powerfully attest to the violent expanse of postwar US geopolitical power around the globe and make palpable the “sensorial life of empire.” Through close readings of their insurgent aesthetic projects, Kapadia traces an alternative affective map of the social worlds and populations disappeared by contemporary US drone strikes in Iraq and by extension in “Af-Pak,” Yemen, Somalia, Niger, and related sites of US forever warfare.

Ronak K. Kapadia is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His first book, Insurgent Aesthetics: Security and the Queer Life of the Forever War (Duke University Press, 2019), theorizes the queer world-making power of contemporary art responses to US militarism in the Greater Middle East. His new project, “Breathing in the Brown Queer Commons,” examines race-radical queer and trans migrant futurisms to develop a critical theory of healing justice and pleasure across transnational sites of security, terror, and war in the wilds of ecological chaos and US imperial decline.


September 2   |   5 - 6.30pm (AEST)

“Martial Autonomies: Rise of the War Machines”


 Antoine Bousquet and Jarius Grove

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

Over the last few years, an animated debate has cohered around the seemingly imminent emergence of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS) endowed with the ability to decide independently on the use of deadly force and act upon it. Grave concerns have been expressed over the legal, ethical, and political implications of such systems, with anxiety extending to the very fate of the human species. But what does it really mean for our weapons to be “auto-nomous”, for them to be self-governing and literally give themselves their own “law” (nomos)? What does this technological trajectory imply for our presumed human autonomy and its role within armed conflict? And what if our present moment is only revealing what was true all along: that war possesses self-sufficient dynamics independent of its instrumentalisation for political designs or determination by other social forces?


Antoine Bousquet is Reader in International Relations at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of The Eye of War: Military Perception from the Telescope to the Drone (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) and The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (Hurst & Columbia University Press, 2009).


Jairus Grove is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Hawai‘i Research Center for Future Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. He is the author of Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World (Duke University Press, 2019).

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September 23   |   11 - 12.30pm (AEST)

"American Kamikaze, Operation Crossroads and the War on Terror"


Katherine Chandler

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

Race and colonialism are enmeshed with early drone experiments. This talk is based on two archives: the autobiography of an American drone pilot from World War II, self published with the title "American Kamikaze" in 1984 and a scrapbook from a photographic unit for Operation Crossroads, which tested drones for aerial filming during nuclear weapons trials in 1946. The "superiority" of the drone in World War II was made against the "inhumanity" of the Japanese military and the removal of Marshall Islanders from Bikini Atoll. Chandler shows how these accounts position the "evolution" of early drone technology in relation to the "kamikaze" or "savage." That neither system actually functioned to uncouple the supposed technological advantage from the ascendancy America claimed in the Pacific. From these experiments, Chandler turns to contemporary drone warfare and consider how targeted killing continues to conflate and overlay technology with moral superiority and legitimacy.

Katherine Chandler studies the intersection of technology, media and politics through a range of scales and forms. She is an assistant professor in the Culture and Politics Program in the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Her first monograph, Unmanning: How Humans, Machines and Media Perform Drone Warfare (Rutgers University Press, 2020), examines unmanned aircraft from 1936 - 1992. She asks how life and death are adjudicated through conditions organized as if control were ''unmanned'' and outlines how politics is disavowed as a result. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in New Media. For more about Katherine and her work, you can visit her website.


October 14   |   Time T.B.A.

"Ecological Crisis and the Rise of Drone Humanitarianism"


J.D. Schnepf

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

This seminar considers the eco-drone’s emerging status as a humanitarian technology in the context of environmental disaster relief efforts. In recent years, media scholars, news agencies, and consumer tech companies have touted the humanitarian potential of new ecosensing technologies. But these endorsements fail to take into account the discrepancy between the speed of new technological systems and the efficiency of state managed rescue. This difference becomes especially pronounced with the reduction of federal and state assistance in times of environmental disaster. Schnepf traces the contemporary mediation of catastrophic flooding to argue that cultural narratives around the eco-drone as an ostensibly humanitarian, life-giving technology produce the figure of the heroic drone operator while obscuring the drone’s alignment with the objectives of the US security state.


J.D. Schnepf is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Groningen. She is completing a book manuscript on the domestic cultures of contemporary U.S. imperialism. In 2019, she was awarded the Emory Elliott Prize for outstanding paper presented at the International American Studies Association World Congress. Her scholarship has appeared in Feminist Media Studies, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Media + Environment, Modern Fiction Studies, Surveillance & Society, and other venues. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Brown University.

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November 13   |   10.30 - 12pm (AEDT)

"The Ornithology of Drone Art"


Thomas Stubblefield

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

As a result of the historical reliance of war upon the animal body, modern military technologies such as the drone are haunted by a lingering zoological presence. Of the nonhuman animals that occupy the modern drone perhaps none are as influential as birds. Not only do these creatures offer a means of materializing an enduring connection between flight and surveillance that had occupied the imaginary for centuries, but so too do they introduce an aerial proxy by which a thoroughly modern asymmetry of warfare would come into being. This presentation will discuss the ways in which the video Seagulls (2013) and the #NotABugSplat installation (2014) engage this residual animal presence in order to both excavate alternate histories of the drone and reimagine its practices of targeting.


Thomas Stubblefield is Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History and Media Studies and Interim Associate Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. In 2015, his book, 9/11 and the Visual Culture of Disaster (Indiana University Press), was awarded the Rollins Prize. His most recent book, Drone Art: The Everywhere War as Medium (2020), was published by the University of California Press. His essay: “Towards a History of the Medial Regime: Force and the Post-Industrial Female Body” appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Cultural Critique (University of Minnesota Press).

Mahwish Chishty

November 26   |   10 - 11.30am (AEDT)

Cultural Aesthetics + Borders


Mahwish Chishty

Click here to view a recording of the seminar

Mahwish Chishty’s artistic research combines her interest in Pakistani traditional folk art/culture and contemporary politics as it relates to US/Pakistan relations. This talk will cover the inspiration and motivation behind the projects that Chishy has been working on since 2011, including: Drone Art series, Wagah Border, Basant: Let’s Go Fly a Kite and Danyore. Chishty will share paintings, installations and collaborative projects as part of this discussion.


Mahwish Chishty is a multimedia artist who initially trained as a miniature painter in Pakistan. Her work combines traditional artistic practice with her interest in contemporary politics, particularly the relationship between the US and Pakistan. In 2017, Chishty was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in the same year she held a solo exhibition of her drone art at the Imperial War Museum, London. Her 2018 installation, Naming the Dead, was shortlisted for the ArtPrize. She is currently Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

(Image: X-47B (2012), Mahwish Chishty, Drone Art series)

Drone Cultures
Virtual Symposium
8 - 10 December 2020
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