James Bridle, London-based writer, artist, publisher, technologist, and author, spent four weeks as our first Artist in Residence at the newly opened Visible Futures Lab. His four-week residency culminated in a drone recognition kit.
This kit consists of three models of contemporary military drones: the MQ-1 Predator, the RQ-170 Sentinel, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk. Human figures are included for scale.
The kit was produced at the Visible Futures Lab at SVA, using 3D modelling software and desktop 3D printing technologies, with the assistance of Digital Fabrication Specialist Carlos Cruz.
All three UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) depicted here are in use at the present time to provide situational awareness in conflict zones around the world for a number of armed forces, as well as in domestic use, including border patrol, forest fire and storm observation, and humanitarian relief. The three models here are all configured as unarmed surveillance drones, although they may be weaponised.
The kit is based on military and civilian recognition kits: collections of models used to train gunners, radar operators and visual observers.
Models for aircraft recognition and targetting have a long history. Between 1942 and 1945, schoolchildren in the US, Canada and South America assembled hundreds of thousands of aircraft models for this purpose. The Ground Observer Corps in the United States employed over a million civilians at the height of the Second World War, while the Royal Observer Corps in the United Kingdom, founded in 1925, deployed tens of thousands of civilian personnel during the same period, across a network of 1,500 posts, including one atop Windsor Castle. Models are still employed for recognition training today, as well as for strategic planning, battlefield, airfield and carrier management, and design testing.
Meanwhile, the actual aircraft become ever harder to perceive. Based at remote airfields in conflict zones, and largely operating in conflict zones inaccessible to ground troops or journalists, the only direct witnesses to their activities are those on the ground beneath them, disconnected from those who pilot them, those who issue their orders, and those in whose name they are directed.
The UAV Identification Kit is an act of visualisation, a materialisation of an unseen technology. As our technology grows ever more networked, ever more complex and interconnected, it both brings us together, and distances us. What we choose to do with these technologies is a function of our ability to see and read them, and to act with them: a literacy, a fluency, and an agency.
The Visible Futures Lab (VFL) exists to further the theory and practice of interaction and product design through structured explorations of emerging technologies, systems, and behaviors in identified areas of research interest. The Lab itself is a joint making space between the Interaction Design and Products of Design departments, but importantly, is a larger College effort. Work done in the Lab contribute to a lasting spirit of purposeful and extendable projects. The VFL gives students and guests the tools to make the invisible visible.
We’re thrilled that students and faculty had the opportunity to work alongside James Bridle during this first residency. Many thanks to James!
The Visible Futures Lab Artist In Residence Program is an opportunity for designers and artists to research and develop projects that explore and expand the philosophy of the VFL. Residences will receive a supplemental income and have access to the facilities and resources of the VFL. In return, residents will host weekly workshops and presentations to expose SVA students to their skill sets and areas research. Each residency will culminate with a final presentation and galley show. Residents do not need to be SVA students or faculty to apply.