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Drone as Metaphor – Interview with artist/director Alex Rivera


There has been no shortage of interest in unmanned aerial vehicles over the past few years. While the legalities of unchecked extrajudicial assassinations is probably not the primary concern of CAN readers, the creative (and critical) potential of semi-autonomous robots is. The New Inquiry Senior Editor Malcolm Harris recently conducted a fascinating interview with artist/director Alex Rivera (of Sleep Dealer fame) in which Rivera discussed his ongoing research into drones and disembodied labour. The exchange between the two is light years ahead of most of the discourse on drones that is occurring within creative technologist circles at the moment and really worth checking out.According to Rivera, the allure of drones is that they perfectly symbolize “the transnational/telepresent world we inhabit.” The artist makes some really astute comments on labour, international relations and he just nails the uncanny implications of drone warfare:

Returning to the theme of the military drone, a lot of the first round of critique was that they make killing antiseptic or like a video game, or that it’s hyper-alienating for the pilots. But what I tried to depict in my film and what I believe is happening is something not that simple. The drone has produced a third type of military sight. Drone vision is not like the infantry’s vision that sees the opposing forces with their eyes, and it’s not the sight system of the airforce pilots that never really saw what was below while dropping bombs from thousands of feet up, often at night. The drone pilot has a type of vision that no military actor has had before, that of lingering, of observing over extended periods of time, and doing so with absolutely no threat to oneself.

I’d go as far as saying that this interview is essential reading for anybody working with (and thinking about) semi-autonomous robotic systems. It should also be noted that The New Inquiry‘s most recent magazine issue is a full-on drone extravaganza and presumably worth digging into for additional incisive commentary.

Alex Rivera | Related projects: Sleep Dealer Low Drone

Sleep Dealer