Drones have captured the popular imagination, mainly as tools of surveillance and warfare. But the unmanned aerial vehicles have also become targets of humor — as when folks couldn’t help but mock an online retailer’s plan to use them for making home deliveries.
Considering their cultural relevance, it’s not surprising that drones, and the issues that they raise, have served as inspiration for artists. That work is the subject of “To See Without Being Seen: Contemporary Art and Drone Warfare,” on view through April 24 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
The exhibition, co-curated by Svea Bräunert and Meredith Malone, includes video, photography, sculpture and other pieces. Among the artists represented are E. Adam Attia (aka Essam), James Bridle, Harun Farocki, Tomas van Houtryve, Trevor Paglen and Hito Steyerl.
Related events, detailed on the museum’s website, include lectures and film screenings.
“We wanted the exhibition to be very focused,” says Malone, associate curator at the Kemper. “This is very much about the notion of militarized drone warfare, and how artists are engaging with it — in both an aesthetic and a political manner.”
“To See Without Being Seen” is divided into three sections: “Bringing the War Home,” addressing drones in a domestic context; “Tracking and Targeting,” examining the relationship between human and machine; and “Countersurveillance,” exploring strategies for evading detection in an age of mass surveillance.
Paglen’s “Untitled (Reaper Drone)” (2010) appears at first glance to be a painting, but is actually a photograph in which a drone is rendered tiny against the backdrop of a cream-colored sky. Farocki’s video “Eye/Machine III” (2003) has a soundtrack featuring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which has become indelibly linked to the 1979 antiwar film, “Apocalypse Now.”
Attia’s satirical “Drone Campaign” posters (2012) depict a family under attack by the New York Police Department. But not to worry: the campaign is touted with the phrase, “Protection when you least expect it.”
Underpinning the exhibition is the idea that a drone is a “vision machine” capable of altering “our way of looking at the world,” says Bräunert, postdoctoral researcher at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies in Potsdam, Germany.
“To See Without Being Seen” is the latest Kemper offering to focus on a topical issue from an artistic perspective, Malone says.
“As a university museum, we’re excited to be able to put on shows like this, that do have a political resonance,” she says.
What “To See Without Being Seen: Contemporary Art and Drone Warfare”• When Through April 24; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays and university holidays); 11 a.m.-8 p.m. first Friday of the month • Where Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, One Brookings Drive • How much Free • More info 314-935-4523; kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu