This book investigates drone technology from a humanities point of view by exploring how civilian and military drones are represented in visual arts and literature. It opens up a new aesthetic ‘drone imaginary’, a prism of cultural and critical knowledge, through which the complex interplay between drone technology and human communities is explored, and from which its historical, cultural and political dimensions can be assessed. The contributors to this volume offer diverse approaches to this interdisciplinary field of aesthetic drone imaginaries. Sprouting from art history, literature, photography, feminism, postcolonialism and cultural studies, the chapters provide new insights to the rapidly evolving field of drone studies. They include historical perspectives on early unmanned aviation and aerial modes of vision; they explore aesthetic configurations of drone swarming, robotics and automation; and they engage in current debates on how drone technology alters the human body, upsets available categories, and creates new political imaginaries.
Furthermore, it is not clear to what extent the traditional kind of dronevision has
actually been replaced with crosshairs –a feature that became familiar when the
war on terror escalated after 9/11. The point-of-view crosshair image, with the
tracking square framing the movements of those under surveillance and potentially about to be ‘engaged’, to use the military euphemism for killing or murder,
is probably the essential icon of drone warfare: the view from above, supported by
and imbued with the specific intimate relations between crew and sensor
surveillance. Yet the recent explosion in popular usage of civilian drones has enabled a proliferation of aerial views outside of military institutions, turning the drone into an artistic medium. Artists, journalists and photographers alike now apply the drone’s vertical gaze to present astounding new perspectives on landscapes, as well as on the social life of humans. This book investigates the power of this remote dronevision – in military operations as in critical artistic practices – by focusing on drones as both potent sensorial platforms and aesthetic objects of
and productive nature of the kill chain’s relationship to those external conditions, relations of causality and symbolic systems which necessitate an attack. Collectively, these entanglements push drone power beyond the historical practices of targeting toward a more constructivist relationship to the world it encounters.
This chapter will expand upon these relations of drone power via the introduction of the concepts of tactical animism and simple triggers before turning to readings of Trevor Paglen’s appropriated drone video piece entitled DroneVision (2010
Nineteenth-century hot air balloons as early drones
‘Sometimes I felt like a God hurling thunderbolts from afar’, says a drone pilot of his experience operating drone missions. 1 This God-like, all-encompassing view from the sky is often considered characteristic of military dronevision. Drones, executing a superior and powerful gaze from above, adhere to what has been called a ‘scopic regime’. The term was originally developed by scholars of visual studies to express the idea that not only what, but how we see is historically conditioned. 2 In research on military drones, it is used to discuss the martial
killed in a US drone strike in April 2011 was shown footage of the strike recorded by the Predator drone, and in an interview with the Los Angeles Times he describes seeing ‘three blobs in really dark shadows’ on the screen. ‘You couldn’t even tell they were human beings – just blobs’, he is reported as saying. 39 It is a curious contradiction, perhaps due to the exaggeration of claims of precision in debates over dronevision, and perhaps also partly indicative of what Thomas Stubblefield describes as ‘a self-defence mechanism against this closeness, an attempt to
drone art first emerged, drones served only two general purposes: to kill and to see . Works such as Morgan Skinner’s Gorgon Stare – which set video feeds from surveillance and strikes drones alongside clips of first-person-shooter video gameplay – and IOCOSE’s Drone Selfies (literal selfies taken from a drone hovering in front of a mirror) interact with various forms of what some describe as ‘dronevision’ (as does Trevor Paglen’s work of that same name). But future drones will serve a far wider variety of purposes: delivering goods, stringing power lines