I’m on my way back from a fantastic if sweltering conference hosted by Francisco Klauser and Silvano Pedrozo in Neuchatel, yards from the beautiful lake. The workshop was titled ‘Power and Space in the Drone Age’ and opened to a wonderful start with a keynote from Jeremy Crampton on drone assemblages, algorithmic lives, and their economies. I really enjoyed talks from a session I chaired on the making of the drone by Anna Jackman (Exeter, UK) who gave some fascinating insights into drone trade shows, and Ciara Bracken-Roche (Queens, Ontario) on the relationship between the drone industry in Canada, which is highly involved in the formation of new regulation, and the wider public perception of the drone. Other talks included keynotes from Ian Shaw, Ole Jensen and papers from Silvano Pedrozo, Synne Tolerud Bull, Irendra Radjavali and Neil Waghorn. As I left Kyle Grayson was starting to discuss the relation between targeted killing and the spaces of the home, but I was disappointed to miss Ariel Handel discuss ‘Soundscapes and touchscapes in the occupied Palestinian territories’. Quite an important theme for the workshop was the material economies of the drone: through which industries,markets, institutions, materials, regulations, and labour, does the drone come together? Also, cities (or drone-scapes) were discussed in the context of speculations over ‘smart’, and potentially highly segregated, urban futures.
My keynote this morning ‘Unmanned, Aerial and Vehicular: Levitate the Drone’ was a long and quite dense effort to move the drone off-centre a little bit, and reconsider the kinds of drone mythologies we’ve seen discussed via Dorrian, Gregory, Crandall, Chamayou, Neocleous, Rothstein and others, through a differential kind of aerial subject: the levitator. This is taking up a lot of my time at the moment as I try to complete a book manuscript on the topic for Reaktion. My take in the paper, not the book, is that the levitator, an important aerial figure in its own right, provides an alternative aesthetics and politics through which the drone might be upset. It might also push much harder at the kinds of gender politics absent from a lot of drone debates so far, but that greatly colour levitation histories. How, in other words, to reconsider the manning of the unmanned drone? This meant, oddly, turning to genres of parapsychology, 19th century mediums, medieval notions of sovereignty and kingship, Catholic saints, paranormal investigation via weighing machines and spirit photography, and, especially, surrealist movements that would turn levitation into a form of political protest, such as the peace march to exorcize the Pentagon by levitation in 1967. An event emulated by many others.
The image above is Salvador Dali’s Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, which given the content of my talk, and if we substitute the man for a drone, felt quite fitting.