Flying Drones Pushing New Mediums In Contemporary Art

Flying Drones Pushing New Mediums In Contemporary Art

KATSU, Drone Paintings, Image Courtesy of the artist and The Hole NYC flying drones
Drone Paintings, KATSU. Photo: KATSU and The Hole

Privacy has become today’s prime and constant concern and surveillance a collective fixation–especially with news like Apple’s recent public letter warning of the US government’s demand for unrestricted access to any iPhone. Drones, the new poster-child for said Orwellian surveillance, are defining contemporary policing and warfare. The impact of this new technology is filtering into the art world and contemporary artists are leveraging this new medium for messages, stamping loud and incredible statements. Some of their artwork serves to protest military drone use and state surveillance, and others simply allow drones to take them to new heights and perspectives.

what are you looking at security camera banksy flying drones
“What Are You Looking At Security Camera,” Banksy. Photo: Banksy

Artist KATSU pioneered his own Icarus One spray painting drone to explore the idea of an artist’s hand when it is now sitting at a remote control. Staying within the limits of this technology, KATSU allows the paintbrush to be replaced with the drone’s awkward weight-sensitive gestures as each burst of paint is deployed. Pushing this technology even further, he used its flight capability to tag a Calvin Klein ad, leaving streaks of red across Kendall Jenner’s face.

Katsu's Drone tag of Calvin Klein ad Flying drones
Drone tag of Calvin Klein ad by KATSU. Photo: YouTube

Artists from Philip Dick and Margaret Atwood to Banksy raise the question of voyeurism, safety, risk and the essence of our public and private selves. What sort of impact does mass surveillance have on the state of our collective psyche, on the way we interact with each other, on the art we make? Trevor Paglen’s Untitled (Reaper Drone), at first glance, appears to be a striking painting but is actually a photograph in which a drone is rendered tiny against the backdrop of a hyper-saturated sky. The Reaper is almost invisible but catastrophic.

UntitledReaperDrone_Trevor Paglen flying drones
“Untitled (Reaper Drone),” Trevor Paglen. Photo: Trevor Paglen

In St. Louis, Missouri, the Mildred Lane Kempar Museum presents To See Without Being Seen: Contemporary Art and Drone Warfare where there is “an international array of contemporary artworks that engage with the geopolitical aspects of drone warfare and surveillance.” James Bridle, one of the featured artists, focuses on the increasingly invisible and seamless military technologies, undeterred surveillance and the amassing of data.

"Drone Shadow," 2013 James Bridle. Site-specific installation, Washington, DC. flying drones
“Drone Shadow,” James Bridle. Photo: James Bridle

Drones are now becoming cheaper and easier to use and, as a result, are coming into the hands of civilian filmmakers who are starting to exploit their creative potential. The New York City Drone Film Festival (NYCDFF) is dedicated to celebrating exclusively drone cinematography. Alexander Pushin, a camerman for the Russian state television, created a powerful video with new drone footage of the attacked, distressed Damascus suburb of Jobar in Syria. The video is apocalyptic, disturbing and all too real.

The question becomes: is this drone art or just footage? Arguably any candid, unscripted video of any subject matter can be considered the latter. However, this short film shows that drones are not merely an essential tool of warfare but also one of the best practical means available for documenting the devastating results for a wider audience.

Drones are quickly adapting their place in our society, seeping into our everyday. These artists remind us to stay conscious of what these drones can do and our power over this technology–taking control of how it is used and brought into our lives.


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