The Blink Between: Thinking About the (Un)Seen in Drone Warfare
Art Style | Art & Culture International Magazine Abstract Contemporary art and aesthetically informed activism addressing drone warfare often seek to make up for a lack in visuals. Their work is fueled by the assumption that images are needed to make people care and to build a case. Paradigmatic examples of this approach include the investigations into the clandestine US drone war in the border region of Pakistan by Forensic Architecture as well as the online campaign #NotABugSplat (2014). They
... gSplat (2014). They employ the image as a witnesses, creating image testimonies geared against denial. Yet, however important such projects are to raise public attention, their belief in making visible needs to be complicated in order to account for the fact that the drone itself is a vision machine operating on images. As such, the image is complicit in dealing violence. It no longer only represents but actively takes part in conflict. Going unseen has hence become a viable counter-strategy when presented with the realities of this war. Taking into consideration that invisibility has become a shield and refuge, I ask in the following essay why 'we' need and want images when thinking about drone warfare. I ponder this question in the context of visual ethics, touching upon the relation between words and images and their appeal to the imagination. Extrapolating on the latter, I not only draw unlikely connections between the blink in drone warfare and the metaphor of the lidless eye in Heinrich von Kleist's writing about Caspar David Friedrich's Monk by the Sea (1808-10), but I also argue for enacting a double vision and inhabiting a skewed point of view that marks my own position. It navigates the tension between the seen and the unseen as relational, thereby helping to build an idea of what an active aesthetics might look like in the age of drone warfare.