2012 Project:  The Centre for International Intervention [cii], School of Politics, University of Surrey, UK, 12-13 July 2012

On 12 -13 July 2012 I contributed artwork to an international 2 day workshop at The Centre for International Intervention [cii], School of Politics, University of Surrey, UK. The conference, Hitting the Target?” How New Capabilities Are Shaping Contemporary International Interventionwas held to discuss how new capabilities generated by new technology affects intervention at a legal, political and military level.  This turned into an exhibition to stimulate discussion between delegates.  I also sent a video presentation and the feedback encouraged me that art has the ability to both broaden our vision and make a difference to the way we conceive the world around us.  

NATO, University of Leeds, and ICRC delivered the keynote speakers with a range of international participants working on these issues.  My abstract was also included in the public exhibition that I shared with some photographs by Al Jazeera photo-journalist Noor Behram and in the workshop programme. These images are reproduced below with the text which accompanied each AO-size print.

Workshop Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Workshop Abstract:  Hitting the Target Poster Exhibition:  
Romancing the Drone: Using painting as reflective discourse to creatively respond to new capabilities

Carl Gopalkrishnan, Independent artist, Perth, Western Australia

My contribution to the workshop is based on my visual art practice as a painter. For the past several years, I have focused my art on uncovering the hidden narratives that drive political decisions. It has been the response of a creative individual living in a time of extreme change, and trying to make some sense of the consequences of many of those decisions since 9/11. I have provided the workshop with five prints of different paintings which map this journey. The images have particular relevance to the human and behavioural consequences of such developments. The five paintings come from two of my painting series - The Assassination of Judy Garland (2008-2011) and The Resurrection of the Tin Man (current work in progress). 

The first explores American political identities using various metaphors including Broadway and Hollywood musicals and medieval French epic poetry (chansons de geste). Several such paintings explore the US military’s relationship to drones and robotics which connect to the workshop themes. It is my hope that my art can serve as a focus of interaction to engage the humanity of workshop participants beyond their different levels of expertise. Each painting, in this context, has the potential to become an access point between delegates from different backgrounds.

As a visual artist, I have worked to avoid protest art or clinical reproductions of technical processes; and to explore a wider context of human influence that I propose is implicit, but not absent, from legal, political and academic discourse on political and military conflict. These include emotions, culture, history, mythology, psychology and archetypal relationships transformed by new technologies and circumstances into new forms.

The purpose of my art is to learn, and in the process I have had to question many of the assumptions I held close. One such example is the argument about attacks on the rule of law. Using a reflective process I was made more aware of the importance of the terms of reference we use to describe events, actions and feelings around actual and potential capabilities. The meaning of words, and the pace of political and personal change, has altered so much as to make me reflect on the infallibility of our reasoning skills in this new environment.

The loss of old meanings and the inability to legally describe or assess new capabilities is an area where jurisprudence and the arts could cooperate to create new words, logic and conceptual spaces that can conceive of new capabilities that do not yet exist. As has been shown by weapons and robotics developers who recruit ideas from science fiction conventions or Hollywood script writers developing counter-terrorism scenarios; new technology requires imagination to open up its potential capability. Similarly, suppressing creative thought because of a fear of its capacity to unleash destructive capabilities can turn into deep regret when we require a creative defence.  This past decade has been an era where creativity and self-expression has been under attack from extreme doctrines from all quarters.

Through engagement with my art, I hope I can encourage the workshop participants to consider creative thought processes as just another tool when investigating alternate responses to the challenge of new capabilities.


POSTER SESSION IMAGES AND TEXT

 ROMANCING THE DRONE

Theme 1:  What are the human and behavioural
consequences of the adoption of the new capabilities?

This painting uses a song from the Broadway musical South Pacific – There is Nothing Like A Dame – to evoke the US (and now global) military’s romantic attachment to the drone. So the title is There Is Nothing Like A Drone (2011). The romance of this type of warfare involves the distance between those who pull the triggers and the actual death or injury of both military and civilians. To maintain this decision-making process, you need to suspend belief. To fall in love you often overlook the flaws in your object of love. The psychological aspects of new capabilities are promoted with a flurry of emotion, fondness, awe.

Soldiers speak of these technologies in anthropomorphic terms, assigning a relationship status not unlike legislating to see corporations as ‘people’. The authors of these narratives are affecting the way in which we understand the impact of this new form of warfare - for the people on the ground that are affected by it. I ask the viewer to write their own lyrics for this song, substituting the word “drone” for “dame”. This visual auditory point allows the viewer to fully experience the musical drama and joy in a military, policy making or a political leaders’ emotional celebration of precision technology. Such emotions are influential, but are unlikely to be attributed to new technology or new capabilities in legal discussion. As if individuals operated within a value-neutral space – which of course they don’t.

there is nothing like a drone gopalkrishnan 76x100cm

 BIO-WARFARE AS SEXOLOGY – A PETRAEUS DOCTRINE?

Theme 2:  Do the new capabilities fundamentally change the policy options available to political leaders?

In this painting I skip to the bio-technology and synthetic genomics which receives less attention as new technology or weapons research, but which is advancing rapidly. This image looks at weaponising the human body and designing the perfect soldier within a scientific field that is largely unregulated. As a sub-narrative, it also ponders on the role of the CIA as a political actor, equal in power and influence to a nation state (even the US Government under which it serves). This came from me seeking out information on DARPA-funded projects in the area of bio-tech (a failure for obvious reasons). Former General David H. Petraeus’ appointment as the new Director of the CIA raises the issue of military influence on research and so I painted him as an archetypal representation of the term “the approval process” so loathed by bureaucrats.

There is a strong sense today of a neoconservative, religious messianic impulse in American politics. In this image I reflect on the range and resources available to DARPA to fund technological advancements intended to support military doctrine under this influence. From this I conceived symbolic images to represent what I saw as subconscious cultural (even mythological) narratives beneath the scientific rationality that brings new technologies into existence. It is an imagination of what a digitally engineered life form might feel if created for the sole purpose of supporting precision killing. It may not ask about the law, ethics, or politics. Synthetic Life may instead question its humanity with the query, What is this thing called Love?

Human emotion is a powerful but implicit narrative beneath ethical debates and its terms of reference in creating policy is rarely acknowledged. The terms of reference are set by scientific and military doctrine (often uncritically). Today’s political leaders increasingly must either emerge from the military or champion it, as civil society and culture becomes increasingly militarised. Responses to new capabilities will carry undeclared cosmologies, faiths and doctrines. The scene of this painting – a symbolic representation of a laboratory conceiving life – imagines a storyline where new biological capabilities might form a type of Petraeus Doctrine. It is a painting about covert power and the role of imagination in creating new capabilities.

[postscript: the painting was completed a year before General Petraeus resigned as CIA Director]

what is this thing gopalkrishnan 2012 gopalkrishnan

 THE OBAMA DRONE WARS

Theme 3:  Do the new capabilities fundamentally change the policy options available to political leaders?

Obama in Conversation with Vishnu and Daleks (painted 2009) explores Obama’s interest in technology. At the time of painting UAVs were less discussed than smaller robots used to diffuse IEDs (like TALONS) but I imagined them in the air and used the metaphor of Daleks (from TV’s Dr Who) in this painting. The image also alludes to code, to the use of the Internet in the election and to the idea of Obama as essentially a digital idea. Information technology today supports political leaders that seek out consumers instead of citizens. Their policies are written with the understanding that consumer behaviour is less morally bound than citizenship. New capabilities indeed fundamentally change policy options because leaders have access to non-political narratives – popular scientific and popular cultural narratives – that appear forward thinking, “above politics“ and therefore objective.

We give political leaders consent under this guise. Science also imbues these visual and oral messianic messages which are often taken as reasoned arguments or evidence for interventions. The Obama brand is wedded to technology. That these Daleks were metaphors for drones, only became apparent a year after I completed the painting. It is also a painting about authentic power; as far as today’s understanding of autheticity requires a digital signature.

Obama in Conversation with Vishnu and Daleks gopalkrishnan 2008

 WAR PORN

Theme 4:  What are the human and behavioural consequences of the adoption of the new capabilities?

In this painting – The Immaculate Contraption - the use of telecommunication and robotic technology are set to music, suggesting the new aesthetic of war in the popular imagination – including imaginings of a long distance from injury and death. The ‘old faithful’ - but superceded – TALON robot is applied as a stencil in front of an IED explosion, transmitted on mobile phones, competing with downloads of old 1980s pop tracks (The Nolans) and dystopian solar flare warnings. My Blackberry Basquiat kneels from within a mobile phone screen asking what is real and unreal and how do we make informed decisions if all information is coming in pre-formatted packages and taken out of context?

Defence policies addressing new technology are emotionally and culturally charged, but wrapped in the language of rationality and science. In this painting that wrapper explodes. Adopting new technologies means removing ourselves geographically and emotionally from the outcomes of our actions. It re-wires previously shared values that define how we currently see a healthy civil democratic society. When we re-wire those values, we cannot read or apply those same laws in the same context again. We can mis-read laws (intentionally and unintentionally) so that justice is not served. US Attorney General Eric Holder’s defence of targeted killing of US Citizens or the CIA’s ‘open and accountable’ discussion of its legal process are processes themselves. They are processes of normalising values which we have previously abhorred.

emaculate contraptions gopalkrishnan 2012 copyright

LEGAL DISCOURSE AS STORYTELLING

Theme 5:  Have states’ ethical, legal, and policy frameworks kept pace with technological developments and if not, how do they need to be revised?

This is a painting of Australian hacker Julian Assange - the founder of Wikileaks – titled Song of Julian (a chansons de geste), in which he is both digital crusader and marionette controlled by other forces. It ponders on the death of traditional theories jus ad bellum and jus in bello and suggest that states’ ethical, legal and policy frameworks have not kept pace with technological developments and that hackers have filled a void in trying to re-define ‘justice’ against these new capabilities – leaving traditional legal discourse behind. The painting suggests that international legal values and those of terrorist actors share a subconscious narrative of Divine Law - a quasi-religious and messianic order of action that does not include new capabilities in its definition of ‘justified war’ or the ‘just conduct of war’. Assange (and later Anonymous) are signs of counter-cultural reactions to these failures which also challenge us to revise the context of criminality. The image suggests that there remains insufficient clarity about the respective applicability of international criminal law and the law of armed conflict - such as interventions using drones and unlawful surveillance.

The use of stencils of the iconic 1945 images from photos by Joe Rosenthal, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima beside a single military boot; and the use of French epic poetry (chansons de geste) are sub narratives. They suggest tensions between traditional warrior culture within the military and CIA drone operators; questioning if the latter is (arguably) operating within a value-depleted ethos. I sensed more implicit values such as scientific empiricism and a value of life and death in that context.

The ethics of surveillance, reducing robots to the size of dragonflies, also raises questions about government surveillance over its own citizens. We need to choose whether to keep our current legal, ethical and policy terms of reference when new capabilities lead to conflicts that no longer look like those on the page of international or domestic agreements. Could new legal agreements acknowledge values as a guide for potential new capabilities that might emerge?

song of julian chansons de geste Gopalkrishnan2010

Hitting The Target Final
Program PDF

Hitting The Target Program available from Surrey Uni cii website

The Poster Session Opening

Whitehall Report on Drones

A Whitehall Report "Hitting the Target?" was produced in collaboration with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). "Hitting the Target?" presents a series of analyses on the ethical, strategic and technological dimensions of contemporary intervention.  Read Report and findings 

 Visit University of Surrey cii homepage

Surrey Life, Summer 2012, p10. 

Surrey Life, University of Surrey, Summer 2012 p10

About The Centre for International Intervention (cii)
"The cii is a multidisciplinary centre based at the University of Surrey in Guildford in the UK. We aim to reclaim the idea of international intervention as a universal human responsibility to offer protection and assistance to vulnerable people on the basis of our common humanity. We use the lower case acronym, cii, to differentiate what we mean by international intervention from the more conventional association with military force."

Other Links
- View a larger image of my painting Nothing Like A Drone (2011)

- View some of my research links for this series of paintings at Research Links 2008-11
- Read my Art Feature/ interview in the Cambridge University Politics Journal The Art of the Possible, May 2012 UK
Acknowledgements
Thank you to the cii and workshop organisers and participants for inviting me to be involved. Also University of Surrey staff and students who attended the exhibit component.  I also want to thank Kat Valvasori (SleepyKat Productions) who filmed and edited the video, Tony Nathan for his digital prints and Ms Mirela Dumic at the cii for kindly liaising with me throughout the process.