Wadi al Abu Jabara. Beit al Ahan. Jaar. Dhamar. Al-Saeed. Tappi. Bulandkhel. Hurmuz. Khaider khel. These are the names of places. They are towns, villages, junctions and roads. They are the names of places where people live and work, where there are families and schools. They are the names of places in Afghanistan and Yemen, which are linked by one thing: they have each been the location of US drone strikes in the past. Most of us will never know these landscapes and we cannot visit them. What can reach them are drones. What can see them—if not entirely know them—are drones. Drones are among the most efficient of military technologies, the most distancing, the most invisible.
I have been posting images of the locations of drone strikes to the photo-sharing site Instagram as they occur. Making these locations just a little bit more visible, a little closer. A little more real.
Drones are avatars of the political process: they are instantiations of a set of ideologies and beliefs, made visible when they are built into electromechanical systems. When we talk about drones, we are really talking about the politics that demand, shape, and deploy them, and the politics which are made possible by them. The Drone Shadow
is not just a picture of a drone. It is a diagram of a political system; a 1:1 representation conveying both the physical reality, and the apparent invisibility, of drone aircraft.
A Quiet Disposition
2013 - ongoing
“The Disposition Matrix” is the term used by the US Government for its intelligence-gathering and targeting processes. Overseen by the National Counterterrorism Center and in development for some time, the Matrix is usually described as a database for generating capture and “kill lists”, but the criteria for both adding to and acting on the information in the database is not public. A Quiet Disposition
is an intelligence-gathering system turned back on its namesake. A weak Artificial Intelligence
or Naive Neural Network,
constantly searching the internet for news articles and other sources of information about drones, and drone-related technologies, including the Disposition Matrix itself. It finds relevant texts, it analyses them, cataloguing names, objects, terminologies, and the relationships between them.
James Bridle, adapted from artist’s statements
James Bridle is a writer, publisher, artist, and technologist based in London. The Drone Shadow series was born in collaboration with Einar Sneve Martinussen, a designer working in interaction design, product design, and research. It forms but one part of Mr. Bridle’s wide-ranging visual and textual activism dealing with issues germane to the post-privacy era: secret surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and the systems that permit and encourage such violence against and among citizen-subjects. He has written and lectured extensively on what he terms the “New Aesthetic”—the visual and social systems produced by the increasing interconnectedness of virtual and physical worlds. The Drone Shadow project makes the impact of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) visible at a 1:1 scale. The purpose of a drone is to be invisible, making the operators completely unaccountable for their actions. For Mr. Bridle, the drone also stands for the now-ubiquitous network of technology that makes observation and action possible at a distance: “Those who cannot perceive the network cannot act effectively within it, and are powerless. The job, then, is to make such things visible.