Friday, May 26, 2017

CODE EMPIRE

Code Empire Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


In Code Empire I have painted Earth and its moon in binary code that repeats/instructs the word EMPIRE. But the full code is not seen, as it wraps around the planet and the moon. Various satellites are positioned in space, and signals radiate into - or - from outer space. 

Code Empire is a continuation of my interest in trying to portray and reflect upon the influence of contemporary digital and cyber technology in our daily lives generally, and in war and conflict specifically. A recent article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" by Ian Shaw directly spurred me to create Code Empire.(1) In the article, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Security Dialogue, Shaw discusses "more-than-human geopolitics" by drawing nonhuman entities, cyborgs, artificial intelligence and algorithms etc, into the realm of geopolitical influence, particularly regarding warfare. The notion of empire is applied to the way contemporary technology enmeshes the planet in a way the sets preconditions for a future dominated by algorithms, artificial intelligence and robotic forces. Shaw uses terms such as "planetary technics" and "robo-mesh". I particularly like "robo-mesh"! His article raises a plethora of questions about the future of war, security and surveillance, and humanity's place in a world where technology not only changes where and how humans live, but also notions of human agency, power and involvement.    

The World Needs Artists
As regular readers know, I have a keen interest in contemporary weaponised technology, especially airborne drones, increasing autonomy in weapon systems, swarming capabilities and ubiquitous surveillance technology. Code Empire channels all these interests as well as my interest in cosmological perspective. I propose that cosmic perspectives, albeit imagined, are useful ways to critically view current global geopolitical machinations. When I say "imagined", I know some people find it hard to transport themselves beyond the here, now and the obvious - that's why the world needs artists!

Cosmic Perspective
With a cosmic perspective, a few readings of Code Empire are possible. Maybe it exposes the infiltration of militarised surveillance facilitation beyond Earth's atmosphere to dual-use communication and GPS satellites; the digital 'empire' already extended into space? If this is the case it is not just the planet enmeshed in code, but also our atmosphere and beyond. Human endeavours regarding technological development are to be marveled, but ultimately is there a human cost, perhaps not initially apparent? Researchers at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk, the Future of Humanity Institute and others have certainly determined that there are risks with accelerating developments in new technologies, including artificial intelligence. 

What if...?
Whilst Code Empire might depict Earth and the moon, it may not be an image of anything in our solar system at all! It could be another planet in another star system or galaxy - or universe, also enmeshed by code! Or, it could be 'evidence' that Earth, and possibly the universe, may be a simulation run by posthumans. My painted signals may not be radiating out from Earth, but into it from some kind of external/remote motherboard entity. Here, I am thinking of philosopher Nick Bostrom's simulation theory, which I have previously written about.* It is useful to think about the idea of a posthuman simulation, because it implies that the human species no longer exists. If we are not a simulation, thinking about a post - human world might trigger more critical and urgent examinations of the role militarised-capable technology plays as a threat to not only human agency but also human species existence. 

As Shaw notes in another article, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World" Understanding the worldliness of algorithms is to view them as forces embedded in the flesh, texture, steel, stone, and undulating atmospheres of our more-than-human co-existence.  (2)

Co-existence - for now!

___________________________


(1) Ian Shaw, A pre-corrected draft version of Shaw's article "U.S. Empire, Warfare, and Geopolitics in the Robot Age" is currently available on Shaw's Academia.edu page. It has been accepted for publication in Security Dialogue.
(2) Ian Shaw, "Policing the Future City: Robotics Being-in-the-World", a paper presented at Intervention Symposium – Algorithmic Governance Organised by Jeremy Crampton and Andrea Miller, published in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Georgraphy, 5.


* Some other paintings where I reference Nick Bostrom's simulation theory. 
And, my designated page:

Please also visit my DRONESCAPES page.

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 18, 2017

FOREVER WATCHED

Forever Watched Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


In Forever Watched a group of human beings stand together under a cage of yellow rays. Is the source of these rays a spotlight, a protective force-field, surveillance signals from an obscured drone or maybe a computer-graphic rendering of a kill zone? Maybe humanity is being lit by a star on a cosmic stage? Is it God sending divine light? Is it magic? 

This painting is another of my cosmic landscapes where I play with perspective, literal and metaphoric. With cosmic perspectives events such as conflict and war are clearly futile and over consumption of natural resources seems like a death wish. Risk takes on new dimensions when we really think about the fact that, for the time being anyway, Earth is our only home! Looking after it and ourselves seem like sensible things to do.

But, there are forces afoot that create and maintain tension.

The 21st century is an era of pervasive and ubiquitous surveillance. In the 22nd century will the 21st century be considered the beginning the 'forever watched epoch'? 

Surveillance occurs when data is collected from  GPS systems and mobile phone usage. Internet usage and browsing history delivers more data. Crowd monitoring in shopping centers and at events gleans even more data. We are under surveillance at airports, our documents cross-checked, our bodies and belongings xrayed and our movements around the globe recorded. 

There is a plethora of ways for people to be watched, passively or aggressively.

In some areas of the world airborne drones monitor individuals and groups for signs of behaviour that, for those watching, may indicate malign intent. This kind of surveillance acts as a type of quasi-military policing, placing fear into those who are constantly watched and monitored. That a drone could quickly turn from surveillance mode to killing mode couples surveillance with lethal weaponry in one device. The drone then becomes a multi faceted dexterous device - private detective, witness, analyst, prosecutor, judge and executioner combined!

Being watched, however, can be considered a way to ensure citizenry safety - a protective practice. Yet, there is something rather creepy about being under constant scrutiny. And, have things become bad enough to require constant scrutiny/protection?  Arguably, being forever watched could be considered an insidious way to insert mechanisms of control across domains. Welcome to the "everywhere war"(Derek Gregory, 2011).


Cosmic Testimony Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 11, 2017

COSMIC TESTIMONY

Cosmic Testimony Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


WITNESSING
Giving testimony is that act of providing evidence of an event, an occurrence, a behaviour or even a phenomenon. Maybe it is an eyewitness testimony? Or, it could be a "flesh witness" testimony from someone who has an immersive experienced in something, rather than observational one? Yuval Noah Harari's article "Scholars, Eyewitnesses, and Flesh-Witnesses of War: A Tense Relationship," is a terrific introduction to the nuanced differences between an eyewitness and a "flesh witness".

In Cosmic Testimony a number of questions about witnessing are triggered. Is the image a projected future scenario that provides a chance to witness the future in order to preempt disaster? Here, I take my cue from Forensic Architecture's postulation that "forensic futures" are possible. Although, I do not use new media, digital data or documentary techniques to create my images, the idea of touching the future is really tantalising. Here's a quote from the Forensic Architecture website, "forensic futures sets out to document the enabling conditions of violence, and offers an archive that may be called upon to testify in the future." Here, a key idea is "enabling conditions of violence". The Forensic Architecture website mentions patterns of behaviour that are likely to be repeated in the future as an indication of "enabling conditions".

REPEATING PATTERNS
In Cosmic Testimony there are hints of a number of repeating patterns - extreme climate events - increasing presence of surveillance - the presence of ever increasing developments in militarised technology ie: drone capabilities. But, there are no real answers - it's a painting after all! Rather than answers, there are questions. Was the fire caused by the small but lethally armed red drone - its Hellfire missiles erupting in massive destruction? Depending on your answer you might read the human figures, enclosed by a cage of yellow rays, as either captured or protected? Are they captured in surveillance signals of an airborne drone? Maybe they are targeted and a kill zone is delineated around them? Or, maybe the yellow rays are protective, some kind of divine force keeping humanity safe? The fire may be an Australian firestorm. Indeed, firestorms and floods seem to occur with increasing frequency around the world, presenting evidence that extreme climate change is potentially a major existential risk to humanity. Yet, the fire is inspired by my childhood memories of my father burning off crop stubble.* 

COSMIC PERSPECTIVE
With a cosmic perspective patterns become obvious. This is at the same time it becomes clear that humanity has nowhere else to go if Earth is compromised to the extent it cannot support life. Distance provides the space for a kind of witnessing where "patterns of behaviour" by "familiar cast of characters" help to foretell a future where violence, ignorance and unsustainable practices could be the norm. 

TREE-OF-LIFE
However, in Cosmic Testimony I  have included my version of the transcultural/religious tree-of-life as another kind of evidence - of sustainable life! The presence of the tree and its roots, coupled with the fire symbolically speak of renewal, potency and rebirth. The spinney of leaves speak of time passing and act as a pathway for humanity. Ultimately, the painting presents a few possible futures for humanity - good and bad - each largely depending on choices we make here and now in the twenty-first century. This is one of the messages Martin Rees conveyed in his fascinating book Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-First Century? 



Stirring the Dark Chasm Gouache and watercolour on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


Other fiery paintings:

Cheers,
Kathryn

Thursday, May 04, 2017

HOT

Hot Gouache on paper 56 x 76 cm 2017


CROP STUBBLE
Regular readers will have noticed a few fires in my recent paintings. The inspiration is drawn from childhood memories of my father burning crop stubble. Magnificent fires, over hectares of ground, lit as the sky darkened...the most still part of the day. These fires took over the horizon in ways that brought the Milky Way closer. Embers and stars seem to meet - fleetingly. The flat treeless plain, where my parents' farm was situated, provided fire with a 'canvas' of vast proportions.   

In my recent paintings I've transported my childhood memories into cosmic landscapes where orientation is somewhat ambiguous. I really like the sense of flying! In Hot I imagine I could be an ember or a star! You could be too.

SERIOUSLY, HOT
But, seriously Hot does engage with issues relating to global warming and environmental sustainability. Here, in Australia fires and firestorms seem to have become fiercer and more regular, particularly during our long hot summers. 'Heated' debates about how land is prepared or not prepared for fire possibilities occur, before and after fire events. Farmers, green lobbyists, environmentalists, government departments argue about the best ways to prevent fire occurring and spreading. But, we approach each summer with trepidation.

What if the fire in Hot is Earth's last remnant, consumed by cataclysmic devastation? Or, it could be a painting of the future, when the Sun meets its demise and the solar system is destroyed. Maybe Hot is the Sun's last gasp, Earth already non-existent? Maybe it's not Earth or our Sun? Maybe, it's a fire at another cosmic address?

Other fiery paintings:

Cheers,
Kathryn