James Bridle of the New Aesthetic and Dronestagram Bridles opened a show at the Corcoran this evening, and I attended. It was the first time James and I have met in person, after several years of blogging at each other.
The show itself is small and drone-centric, containing a grid of Dronestagram images and Google Map dronespottings, but also video, a 10-volume printed excerpt of a UAV-related webcrawling database project in development, and Bridle's classic drone identification kit [below].
The most stunning and disturbing image in the show is a realization Bridle made of the "Light of God," a nightvision goggle-eye view of a targeting laser descending from the heavens. It's based on a drone pilot's commentary in an Omer Fast video, and it's gorgeous, eerie, and chilling as hell.
During his talk in the adjacent auditorium, Bridle began by mentioning how he is compelled to make physical the things he studies. His most powerful piece, the life-sized outline of a drone drawn on the ground, is an excellent example of this.
In answer to one of the last questions, about materialist formalist dialectic, Bridle noted how he often found himself making an object of something from the network, in order to photograph it and reinsert it into the network. The Corcoran show feels like this: a physical instantiation of digital content.
The idea for the show, or particularly, for Bridle to be the go-to guy for such a show, more than just The New Aesthetic Guy, but certainly that, came from the Corcoran's IT department, said the curator who introduced the evening. I will choose to take this as evidence of the Corcoran's cross-disciplinary innovation and flat organization, not as a sign of a vacuum at the top of the institution. Anyway, the whole affair seems closely linked to the school side of the Corcoran, i.e., the still-functional side. The crowd was crowded, and felt student-heavy.
Anyway, James Bridle. Bridle noted that we in Washington are lucky to have a real Predator drone in our midst, right there at Air & Space Museum. It is exceedingly rare, he said, and he would know, to be able to be in the presence of an actual drone. They're either largely invisible, or they're bearing down on your village. And there's one hanging on the Mall.
And now there is the shadow of one, the outline of one, really on the sculpture pad of the Corcoran. That's how it's described, as being sited on the sculpture pad. Obviously, it doesn't begin to fit on the sculpture pad. It's painted on the pad, the rocks, the curb and sidewalk, with white paint of some no doubt temporary kind.
It is much bigger than you might imagine, which is exactly the point. That, and imagining it being overhead and casting a shadow on the ground, the thing a Pakistani wedding party might see right before the missile hits.
Bridle noted as to how not many people will get to see this privileged view from above. I would note that White House staff in the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building will get to see it every day, and that right there is quite something.
But he's right, and it underscores his point, that the drone outline reads quite differently from the ground. It's not Nazca Lines different, but that's the sense of it.
I asked James later how he'd decided which way to point the drone. There was really only one good way to fit it, he said, and also, he knew he didn't want to aim it at the White House. Which is understandable. When he installed his first drone drawing in Istanbul, Bridle similarly made sure not to aim the drone at Mecca. In consciously not aiming at the White House, Bridle's drone ends up feeling like it's coming directly from the White House. Which probably intensifies its critical position a bit. It worked for me, at least.
In between these moments was a cogent, timely, and depressing talk about technology as a tool of control and a reflection of the political and social systems that foster and use it. If it was recorded or streamed, I will try to find a link.
Meanwhile, as I walked around the drone on my way home, I did think of one piece missing. Not to tell James how to do his job or anything. But it occurs to me that the sound of drones is distinctive and terrifying. Perhaps a sound element to recreate the perpetual presence of drones in the vicinity of the Corcoran, would provide a visceral experience. Who knows, it might even wake the neighbors.
Indeed: Corcoran College of Art & Design: Quiet Disposition by James Bridle, through July 7, 2013 [corcoran.edu]