The drone has become a pervasive feature of contemporary art practice. As more and more questions are being asked about the legitimacy and efficacy of the various RPV programmes around the world (but mostly, it has to be said, the US in the Middle East and Afghanistan), the spectre of the drone has naturally become something of a totem for the art world. Just as the Futurists saw something fundamentally modern, strange and seductive in the aeroplane and motorcar – and fighter plane and tank – the image of the drone neatly distills our concerns about technology, control, fear, powerlessness and occupation, even as they slip into our culture under the radar (pardon the pun). In the UK, UAVs are tested at West Wales Airport, from where they can loop out over the Irish Sea.
The site that’s getting the most traction on this latter debate is Drone Wars UK, which compiles a list of known drones and chronicles their various misadventures around the globe. The drone is taking on the persona of a mindless, purpose-driven, ideologically blinkered character, a bit like the conscious Bomb 20 in John Carpenter’s Dark Star (scene: ‘Tell me bomb, what is your one purpose in life?’ ‘To explode, of course.’). George Barber’s The Freestone Drone (Vimeo) uses the nugget that drone operators look for washing lines as symbols of human habitation as the basis for a short, twisted film.
In 2011, a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel went down over Iran. As a result ‘The RQ-170 Sentinel, known as The Beast of Kandahar, is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In December 2011 one drone was shot down by the Iranian armed forces and exposed on national TV. A souvenir was produced to commemorate the incident‘, on show at the Istanbul Design Biennial‘.
Also in Istanbul was James Bridle’s Drone Shadow 002, part on an ongoing project exploring the cultural impact of the drone: ‘[They are] part for the network itself: an invisible, inherently connected technology allowing sight and action at a distance… We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire.’ Bridle is also responsible for Dronestagram, a project that puts drone-related strikes in their geographical context, with a dry, factual explanation.