The Freestone Drone

Visual and media artists continue to dazzle with their interventions on the drone wars.  Pierre d’Alancaisez of waterside contemporary in London has written with news of a forthcoming video installation by George Barber, a pioneer of the Scratch Video movement of the 1980s, called The Freestone Drone, which will be at the gallery from 2 February through 23 March 2013.

Freestone Drone - main image hires

In an installation conceived specially for the gallery and consisting of three video projections, an array of domestic objects and numerous washing lines, George Barber’s The Freestone Drone follows a mission from the point of view of the machine. The drone’s camera surveys cityscapes, encounters individuals, reports, and in flight becomes aware of its own utility and destiny. Drone operators routinely study the washing to learn about their targets – it is foretold that the Freestone Drone is to die entangled in a clothes line.

The video combines found and made footage to produce an uneasy, seductive montage, anchored on the drone’s private thoughts. Barber brings together war, love, life, death, and sends the drone over not only Waziristan, but also to New York and a London suburb. The drone then travels through time, projecting images of the past and possible futures. 

While narrative unravelled on screen resists easy categorisation, the artist draws the viewer to empathise with the antagonist. Engendered with human consciousness and independence, the drone is a poet who disobeys orders and does his own thing, a child within a machine.

In the legacy of Godard and Marker, The Freestone Drone proposes the meeting place of poetry and philosophy as a site to consider contemporary ethical and political concerns. Ultimately, Barber’s work underlines the fact that technologies, and in particular modes of warfare, are symptomatic of the way we understand ourselves at our moment in history. Much now done in our name is at odds with democratic tradition: hidden, inhuman and robotic.

The child-like anthropomorphism of the drone is chillingly effective, and made me think again about the conceit I used to introduce a brief post at the end of last year, ‘Stalking in the air….’

Here is a preview:

The waterside gallery is at 2 Clunbury Street, London N1; it makes a point of working with – not simply showing – contemporary artists, and it’s also worked with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler whose work I noted last year.