Not a bug splat: artists vs drones

Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

 

For a decade, war has been partly carried out at a distance, through an all-seeing eye. Drone operators see targets, but not faces. Part of the dehumanisation process consists in calling victims “bugsplats” after the strike, as Jennifer Robinson states here.

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, NV - AUGUST 08:  A pilot's heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force's first "hunter-killer" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. The Reapers are expected to be used in combat operations by the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq within the next year.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, NV – AUGUST 08: A pilot’s heads up display in a ground control station shows a truck from the view of a camera on an MQ-9 Reaper during a training mission August 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force’s first “hunter-killer” unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. The Reapers are expected to be used in combat operations by the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq within the next year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 When a group of journalists in London, called Bureau of Investigative Journalism, works to give each dead a name, an artists collective has launched a project to reverse the processes of dehumanisation and desubjectivation which make drone warfare possible: Not a bug splat.

Inspired by JR’s huge portraits, Not a bug splat is an installation which gives back their face to drone strikes victims. The portrait is deployed in a field, in Pakistan, and pictures a little girl. The portrait can be seen from a drone camera.

As seen from a civilian drone. Source: http://notabugsplat.com/

As seen from a civilian drone. Source: http://notabugsplat.com/

In Ethics and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas explains that morality does not exist without relation to the other. This relation manifests in the face of the other, which brings me back to my responsability and my guilt. Nevertheless, the child in the Not a bug splat‘s portrait is a drone victim but not as a casualty : she has lot an essential part of her family in a strike.

This little girl’s face becomes universal. More than a victim’s face, it is the face of the otherness, at the heart of Levinas’ moral philosophy. It sends the drone operator, and spectators of the installation – often ignorant to this new form of “combat” – back to their guilt. She looks straight at the camera, which creates unease.

If dehumanisation is a lengthy political process, the portrait, by disrupting the landscape, places ethics in the precise moment of the strike.

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