James Bridle has always been interested in finding ways to blend the virtual world that we get caught up in with the physical one that we actually live in. After years of work in this field, he eventually coined the term “The New Aesthetic”, which refers to artworks that aim to increase the appearance of the visual language of digital technology and the internet in the physical world.
Dronestagram is one of his pieces that intend to do just that. Created in 2012, Dronestagram is an installation piece that exhibits the landscapes of drone strikes (before the strikes) in Afghanistan and Yemen by posting pictures of them on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. Bridle believes that drones are so technologically advanced that they are the most efficient, the most distancing, and the most invisible death-dealing weapons that the UK and US militaries use. In result, the killings of these drones whether immoral or not, help create the context for secret, unaccountable, and endless wars with these foreign countries. This project uses satellite and surveillance technologies combined with social media to reveal new information about the world around us, rather than just using them to organize one’s pictures, thoughts, feelings, etc. Many people know of these foreign countries, but what they don’t know is the activity of their government’s drones in these settings. Bridle’s objective is to give this insight to people via social media and let them learn about what’s actually happening in the world by presenting it for people to see and absorb, rather than obscuring these strikes and creating a sort of secretive environment around this topic.
Dronestagram uses images from Google Maps Satellite and posts them with short summaries about each site and what happened during the strike. Most of the records of the strikes are drawn from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which compiles reports from Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Information of exact locations of the strikes are not usually given, so the views in the images are within a few kilometers of the site. Drones are in constant use in Afghanistan by the UK and the US, however, neither release any regular information about their use.
What if instead of seeing cool posts about one’s friends on their Instagram feed, they see the sights of where their government murdered people (some completely innocent) using drones? How will this affect the way people think about their society and more importantly the transparency of their government? As it was written about on a Vice:
This piece is similar to Watching the Watchers, another one of Bridle’s projects. Conducted in 2013, instead of collecting images of the drone’s eye view, he gathered images from digital satellites of the actual drones themselves at training bases in the US desert and “secret” installations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other locations in the the Middle East. Both of these pieces focus on the idea that drones are designed to operate in a stealthy fashion, yet their physical structure and operations are unknowingly accessible to citizens. By rendering them visible, people can eventually render their operation and politics legible, and thus open up this topic to intervention.
#NotABugSplat is another project that addresses drone strikes in the Middle East. Created by multiple unknown artists, including french artist JR, this piece installed a massive portrait of a child who lost his parents and younger siblings in a drone attack in Pakistan. When viewed by a drone camera, the operator now sees the face of an innocent child victim, rather than another “bug” on his screen to “splat”. Instead of raising awareness of these attacks by means of our virtual world like Dronestagram does, #NotABugSplat uses the physical world to implement a real life artifact that hopefully touches people in a much more significant way.
Dronestagram shows people the behind the scenes of their government’s drone operations in foreign countries and helps make this topic less obscure to the public. This piece helps give society hope, hope that one day it will create empathy and introspection amongst these drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, all in hopes of eventually leading to decisions that will save the innocent lives of people.
Some exhibitions/festivals Dronestagram was a part of:
Honorary Mention at the Prix Ars Electronica 2013
Won Media Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival 2014
Exhibited as an interactive installation - doesn’t say where