Discussing drones

Exhibition lacks human element

What Flies Above includes a video, Alphabet, projected on the wall.

Supplied Photo

The University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03 is displaying an exhibition from local artists Reva Stone and Erika Lincoln until Feb. 17, 2018.

According to 1C03’s website, What Flies Above exhibits “new digital and sculptural installations...that (explore) socio-political implications of our interactions with unmanned aerial vehicles (often referred to as UAVs or drones).”

Hassaan Ashraf, an artist currently living in Winnipeg, describes the exhibit as “one of the most appalling shows (he’s) ever seen.”

“I was extremely offended, hurt and disappointed,” he says.

In an artist talk that took place at 1C03 on Jan. 18, Stone and Lincoln discussed their work. Stone describes one of her pieces, a video titled Alphabet, as “an animated video of an alphabetized list of more than 75 countries in the world that use and own drones and the names of the drones they use.”

“I animated the lettering to come out of the blue sky and the names of the drones to come out of the names of the country,” she says.

“The work should be about the people, all those who have lost their lives at the hands of these flying machine robots,” Ashraf says. “How can one with a clear conscience research drones and make work about them and refine the work to the point of exhibiting it and not mention all the people these things have killed in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria?”

“It’s mind-boggling, especially considering that students from these very countries study at the University of Winnipeg.”

“I programmed this show to offer a venue for critical thinking and discourse around issues such as this,” 1C03 director/curator, Jennifer Gibson, says in response to this concern.

“Their goal is to ask us to think about the various uses of drones,” she says of Stone and Lincoln.

At the artist talk, Lincoln was asked about the role data plays in her work.

“The problem with data is that it’s problematic,” she says. “I think it’s an interesting thing to work with for myself. I would probably not continue with the drones for my practice. I think I would leave it where they are, for now, for me.”

Not everyone can walk away from drones so easily.

In 2015, a report titled “Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror’” estimated that between the years 2004 and 2013, up to 951 people were killed by drones in Pakistan alone.

Ashraf points to another art installation about drones, viewable on notabugsplat.com, which he says might serve a “better and bigger purpose of saving lives.”

The website shows an aerial view of an enormous portrait of a child, laid skyward on the ground next to some buildings in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks are common. The purpose of the piece is to challenge insensitivity towards, and raise awareness about, civilian casualties.

“Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face,” the website says.

“This shameless display of white privilege is infuriating yet not surprising, since it’s Winnipeg that all of this is taking place in,” Ashraf says.

Published in Volume 72, Number 16 of The Uniter (February 1, 2018)

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