I thought I would post a more detailed summary of Rob Coley’s talk from Monday, including an overview of the five statements/thesis that were suggested for thinking critically about ‘drone culture’.
Dr. Coley remarked on the weird visuality of the drone, which are at once omnipresent yet ‘hidden in plain sight’. Since a lot of uses of these technologies are fairly speculative and their operation highly confidential, they remain largely invisible or hidden from public consciousness. This is not simply because military U.A.V’s mostly operate at such high altitudes and in far-off lands, but because the political motivations for them remains obscure. As such, it is important not too get too hung about the technology itself, on the technological object of the U.A.V/drone. Instead, Rob suggested groups think creatively about the political and cultural operation and development of this contemporary phenomenon.
1 – There is nothing categorically new about drone culture.
Military uses of U.A.V’s has a long history of development, with Rob highlighting a number of examples from the interwar period and application of these during WW2. He also suggested that it is crucial to acknowledge the vast information network that underpins ‘drone culture’ itself, and all forms of society has become deeply embedded with systems of computation. As such, the (post)human condition is deeply threaded in technology, and so contemporary society is ‘always, already networked’. This approach might lead to a better understanding of the entangled relations of humans and the technical.
2 – Drone culture is vectoral. It collapses space, it transforms space
The development of technological networks allows information to travel faster than the speed of human movement, leading to a transformation of how we perceive the world. Rob discussed the ‘remote otherness’ reported by drone operators. Drone operators are ‘tapped-in’ to the network as they negotiate various flows of information and surveil geographical spaces from afar.
3 – The symptoms of drone culture are not simply detected ‘over there’ – but it also has a local impression
Rob also highlighted the significance of Lincolnshire in British ariel power, with the geography and agricultural history of the county long bound with military operation. In particular, the British fleet of Reaper Drones currently in action in Waziristan is controlled and operated from Waddington, a local R.A.F base.
4 – Drone culture requires us to do something – there is a need for aesthetic intervention
The visual representation of the drone provides a paradox: whilst we might recognise the image of the ‘drone’ object, it merely leaves a vague after impression that is hard to fully pin down. As a result a number of artists have attempted to ‘open up’ and intervene politically and aesthetically. Rob gave a number of great examples to provide inspiration for student work, which are designed to disrupt continuity of drone culture – making visible the contours of this mode of power.
5 – Operation of vectoral power imbedded in our own everyday lives. Operates not externally but on us and through us.
It is perhaps not news to hear that we live in surveillance culture where our everyday activities and communications are constantly monitored and quantified. Recent revelations from Edward Snowden has exposed the full extent of this, with revelations about N.S.A’s PRISM initiative highlighting how the N.S.A has been routinely aggregating data from commercial servers, monitoring and manipulating this to ‘visualise’ recognisable patterns. Ultimately this underscores that vectoral power operates through this ‘patterning of life’. Incidentally, this is how aerial drones operate – they scan the land for recognisable patterns, whilst information flows are scanned for recognisable relationships.
6 – Drone culture pulls the future into the present
Given the undetermined nature of drone culture, it largely remains speculative, imaginary and futuristic. Rob demonstrated how science fiction is becoming part of the aesthetic of the every day, and is used to transform and shape future activities and action. McKenzie Wark has claimed that is necessary to keep pace with these cultural and political transformations, to create interruptions to the smooth functioning of vectoral power. The work and discussions developed during co_LAB provides an opportunity for students to engage in aesthetic and politcial interventions, to imagine new futures.
Rob ended the talk by highlighting that as an individual drones are powerless, but together they create something powerful – that they exceed the sum of its individual parts. This was a greta point, and exemplifies the collaborative nature that co_LAB is aiming to encourage.