Choose any media or medium and there is no question that Drones have become the white hot center of debate for a multitude of deeply consequential concerns for the entire Earth Sphere. No matter the digital end point or theatre of conversation, whether it be politics, war, privacy, pop culture, or the rise of machines – Drones or UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles) are the current catalyst du jour in any number of flashpoint discussions. From the front page headlines of news outlets around the world, to op-ed pages debating national security vs. non-juridical “justice,” to the big budget sci-fi film “Oblivion” with a main protagonist being a lonely drone repairman toiling away on a scorched earth, there is no getting away from the conversation.
Even more interesting is the tone of inevitability of outcome. Core discussion seems to focus on a coming drone-filled sky and how we might govern our selves accordingly as this fact becomes a reality. It would seem that we have surrendered to the “law” that if something is possible in its technology, it will inexorably come into being and have to be dealt with. If we can build it, we will, and our finger will itch to find a reason for pulling the trigger. Is this the dark side of human creativity and inquisitiveness that will ultimately one day spell our doom or the first signs of a coming technological Utopia.
As always, concerned artists around the world are responding, reflecting and creating. In NYC Adam Harvey has turned the very core idea of fashion on it’s head. His art project is not about being seen and noticed but about remaining unseen as there will now be no way to be unseen in this brave new climate of surveillance.
The artists of deviantART have similarly been creating artwork of incredible beauty and message.
For a deeper examination of the intersection of future shock military terror and artistic response, istickboy takes us on a journey through an art centered perspective on the subject. Jason Boog is not only a talented writer of finely crafted sentences, but he also brings a true journalist’s skills in research, analysis and balanced presentation to the topics he covers. His future contributions to depthRADIUS will no doubt prove as edifying and thought-provoking as they will be entertaining. Welcome, Jason.
Near the end of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the video game player must rescue the President while a swarm of unmanned aircraft demolish Los Angeles. Players navigate a landscape of collapsed skyscrapers and burning cars, the air thick with ash and yellow smoke. Remote controlled helicopters, airplanes and tanks ambush the player, rogue drones blasting the city to pieces.
The game concludes in 2025 with this nightmare scenario: terrorists have seized control of the entire United States drone fleet. The game has spawned deviantART collections and fan art as players create wallpaper stills, posters and scenes from the game.
Unmanned airplanes and other robotic fighting machines will obsess popular culture for years to come, and deviantART has already become a hub for drone art. Artists have tagged more than 19,000 posts with the word "drones” inventing everything from robots with laser cannons to My Little Pony drone horses to alien machinery to sleek unmanned airplanes to gorgeous robot blimps mining gas on distant stars.
According to Navy historians, drones first took flight in 1937, as the military tested remote controlled airplanes for research and missions. Just like drone bees under the command of the Queen, these early Navy drones were used for dangerous missions, target practice and other disposable tasks.
The humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch recently published a report about drone warfare around the globe. According to the study, US Department of Defense has invested about $6 billion every year into “the research and development, procurement, operations, and maintenance of unmanned systems for war.” In May 2010, U.S. drones surpassed one million flight hours and a short time later, in November 2010, achieved one million combat hours.
Winged violence from the sky is not a new artistic theme.
John James Audubon
The great 19th Century artist and naturalist dedicated much of his career to sketching birds in beautiful and violent moments. You can download free copies of his illustrated journals at Project Gutenberg. In his journal, he described the magnificent killing power of birds of prey.
He described the violence of a black-backed gull hunting in a rainstorm:
The rain is driven in sheets which seem scarcely to fall on sea or land; I can hardly call it rain, it is rather a mass of water, so thick that all objects at any distance from us are lost to sight every three or four minutes, and the waters comb up and beat about us in our rock-bound harbor as a newly caged bird does against its imprisoning walls. The Great Black-backed Gull alone is seen floating through the storm, screaming loudly and mournfully as it seeks its prey; not another bird is to be seen abroad”
In the 20th Century, aviation art captured airplanes with the same gorgeous detail that Audubon brought to real birds. The movement took flight during World War II as airplanes brought mass destruction to the prosecution of war. Artists romanticized the deadly beauty of military machinery, painting a species of bird created by mankind.
Roy Lichtenstein painted "Whaam" as an ironic part of this tradition.
In the five-foot tall panels, a comic book airplane blasts another fighter jet, creating a fiery inferno that engulfs half the painting with a comic explosion. The painting reproduced an image from a 1962 DC comic book, “All American Men of War.” Painting that image on an enormous canvas, Lichtenstein focused on the terrible beauty of an exploding aircraft.
An explosion of science fiction in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s introduced rocket ships. There is a direct line to Star Trek and Star Wars through Blade Runner from Sputnik, the first unmanned satellite in space launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union. The real thing and the imagined blend together.
From Halo to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, drones have always played...
A Role in Video Games
The Starcraft series featured horrific Zerg drones, a combination of a wasp, monster and killer alien. In the Halo franchise, insect-like Yanme'e aliens are called drones. They fly and fight in hive formations, rallying around a queen like earthbound insects.
Just like these video game creatures, our real life drones were designed by watching nature. Robotic engineers at Boston Dynamics are creating the next generation of drones that will work on the ground for the military. These creatures all mimic real animals, strange works created by engineers --unnaturalists, if you will.
Anime has also explored drone warfare, especially the mecha anime genre that “revolves around the use of piloted robotic armors in battle.” These colorful stories show epic battles between enormous fighting machines.
Inspired by mecha anime, deviantART artist izo84 has been developing a “Drone Army” video game concept for many years, posting some of his work on the site. He also cited professional devinatART members like ukitakumuki, Avitus12, KaranaK and flaketom as inspirations.
izo84 feels conflicted about his work:
I do not feel good about designing war machines. But I think as long as what I envisioned is pure fiction, I can continue working without remorse. On the other hand, I can see how fast the real development of unmanned war machines changed, and I have concerns.”
Inspired by press accounts of drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, artist turningaway posted “War as a Video Game” on deviantART. The political painting shows what a drone attack feels like for innocent civilians on the ground and reminds us of the consequences of these unmanned attacks.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was not created as science fiction. An Australian gaming site AusGamer interviewed Treyarch studio co-founder Mark Lamia who worked on the game. The founder explained the realistic art design behind the drone attacks: “We wanted to make sure that this is Call of Duty, it can’t be too sci-fi, it’s gotta feel like this is plausible. It’s part of the DNA of Black Ops where we set up these plausible scenarios and then we have our fiction going through it and our story... the flipside of major advances in robotics and technology is that sort of— on the flipside— is the dependencies on that and things that might be happening in cyber-warfare in the future. Things that used to be the domain of great science-fiction books is no longer, it’s reality; it’s happening; starting to play out in the headlines today, but certainly in the coming decade.”
While developing Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the video game designers and artists consulted with P.W. Singer, the war scholar who wrote the most important book about drone warfare, Wired for War. Singer described why video game players are highly valued as drone pilots: “Having spent their youth online gaming, sipping Red Bull, and talking on their cell phones all at once, young drone pilots come to the unit with an ease at multitasking already wired into their DNA.”
Artists are training warriors.
For the Reader
Which do you think came first: the real drones or the artistic interpretations of drones?
DaVinci drew sketches of weapons and war machines as well as producing the most emotionally restrained and expressive portrait of a woman in the Mona Lisa. Is a sketch of a drone emotionally connected or is just an illustration of future shock?
There are all kinds of camera drones used by the military, by engineering companies to inspect pipelines, for example, and by film companies for all kinds of effects. What would be an art drone? Maybe a flying machine trailing colors, a guided laser obliterating ugliness or a device for laying down graffiti on inaccessible surfaces— do you have an idea for an art drone’s function or mission?
In Singer’s book, drone squadron commander Gary Fabricius talks about the lives of drone pilots: “You are going to war for twelve hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car, drive home, and within twenty minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.” Is this really any different than spending a day in the studio drawing a comic or animations or illustrations of mass mayhem and destruction?
Do you think the proliferation of drones all over the world somehow brings us closer to a new world order or one world government?