“To See without Being Seen: Contemporary Art and Drone Warfare,” on view until April 24 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, looks at the artistic response of photographers, videomakers and installation artists to surveillance, remote controlled warfare and the use of technology in contemporary policing. Just as military and government entities have adopted cameras to monitor the lives of citizens around the world, the artists featured in the exhibition employ modern surveillance technology to make images that comment on the ubiquity of covert data collection.
For “Blue Sky Days,” photojournalist Tomas van Houtryve, for example, used a drone to make aerial photos of civilians in the United States in order to highlight how citizens in regions where drone warfare is conducted are followed and targeted. Trevor Paglen used an Orion refractor telescope, which is used to make long-distance images, to track drones and satellites. The pretty blur of clouds and sky in his Turneresque image “Untitled (Reaper Drone)” belies the fact that the drone which appears as a speck in the image is used in remote control warfare. James Bridle has created an Instagram account that shows satellite images of drone strike locations shortly after they are reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Selections from his “Dronestagram” feed are displayed along with information about the locations of the strikes and the numbers of civilian casualties. Throughout the history of the medium, photography has been viewed as aggressive and intrusive, and people who “shoot” or “capture” images are at times viewed with suspicion. The use of imaging technology in the war on terror takes the aggression even further, but disconnects the human actor from the technology used to target and kill: These technologies are controlled by anonymous operators working in command centers thousands of miles from their targets. The artists in “To See Without Being Seen,” have repurposed that technology to make personal statements about not only modern warfare but also the use of photography to carry out anonymous and unaccountable assassination. —Holly Stuart Hughes
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