“Traveling Shot Over 26000 Miles” is a multi-media research project that reframes the processes used to picture the world, including aerial photography, satellite imagery, maps and the analytical data tied to them. Incorporating three-channel video, hung images, (de)classified documents, and published reports, the project was installed in the Harold F. Johnson Library Gallery at Hampshire college from April 19-21, 2016.
To put it broadly, the project focuses on surveillance, instruments of vision, maps, and the cyber-military-industrial complex. Initially, I was concerned with translations across and migrations between analog and digital mediums, with an emphasis on film/video technology and audiovisual broadcasting. Then, in October of 2015, the Drone Papers were released by The Intercept and the trajectory for my project focused in on unmanned aerial vehicles as combined instruments of filmmaking, surveillance, and war. With a lot of interest about the history of film as an art form and as a medium of communication (and particularly liking writing and films Paul Virilio and Harun Farocki), the mass of information in the Drone Papers actualized a shift in thinking that I’d harbored but never carried out—creating work to link the history of film and video technologies with the history of war technologies and their derivatives.
At the end of the Fall semester, I had done extensive research about the aforementioned and honed in further on: spy satellites launched by the U.S. during the cold war; the complicated systems of software, hardware, firmware, and control through which drones are flown; and the more cutting-edge applications of imaging technologies as applied in mapmaking and geography. My father has worked in the mapping industry as long as I’ve been alive, and through him I learned a lot more about the corporate nature of imagery and the languages that attend to it.
This particular aspect of the project also reinforced a key principle throughout the whole process—the government agencies (the NSA, the CIA, the military branches) that carry out drone strikes, mass surveillance, etc. are incapable of doing so without reciprocal collaborations with private technology and defense industries. As I planned to return for Colorado for the Winter break, I decided to spend a significant amount of time filming this cyber-military-industrial network that manifests as office parks, military bases, corporate campuses, geospatial conference panel discussions, and more.
Rather than emulate the performances of a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, or the prima facie rhetoric of Glenn Greenwald , I became interested in certain embodiments of lack, limit, and accident that seemed, as a mere citizen, the most effective critical perspectives available from which to gaze into this vast and occluded network. The work of Trevor Paglen , The Speculative Archive, and the Bureau of Inverse Technology function as fragments, distorted visions, or incomplete sets of data that nevertheless testify (as representations) to the contradictory meanings contained in their subjects. To that end, rather than document and divine what little information I could from an inverse surveillance, I decided to work in an installation format that would describe a constellation of artifacts—all partial, all abstract—in which fragments and distortions would instill skepticism towards the canonical images of public and private spaces. I also fabricated a character who would, as I couldn’t, juggle the dual performances of an investigator and collaborator into these subjects. This character is an analyst who works for aggregate company representing the commercial, civil, and military interests of geospatial information; a worker who oscillates between applying and investigating the expanse of applications of his discipline.
The installation was structured around the plural functions of observation in the active sense: observation as procedure, as in drones; observation as operation, as in the satellite surveillance systems of the National Reconnaissance Office; observation as index, as in the character who documents his own research on video; observation as relief displacement, as in still images processed into three-dimensional models, questioning our ability to trust in images as indicators of real objects. This structure creates and comments on oppositions between public and private knowledge, the industrial quality of world images, and the parallel and interrelated developments of camera technology and war. By reproducing the processes used by government agencies and private companies to index and analyze spatial information, the “surveillance state” is linked more concretely to the instruments that enable it—and new forms of critiques open at the point of transaction between images.
While I very much had an intention to disrupt and complicate an audience member’s relationship to imagery and spatial awareness, no individual piece in the installation could be taken out of context to encapsulate the full scope of the ideas/themes involved. Furthermore, many of the relationships between materials presented were casual and highly constructed; but also purported to this construction through their sequencing and the requirement that this sequencing be understood as coming from a variety disparate sources. Giving the audience members this awareness without necessitating a specific positioning from which to view these sources also contributed to the installation’s “openness” described in the negative space between videos, still images and text.
Though all these elements clearly touch on clearly identifiable “issues” like ‘space’, ‘surveillance’, ‘drones’, and ‘cybernetics’, no specific issue takes a desirable position with respect to the others; and in any instance of registering an issue at hand, the audience member does not seem to find information that is total. Though I very much chose to participate in the process and strategies I was investigating, I also opposed these strategies to the known—not the real but the explicit; the inactive, not the actionable; the raw, not the derivative.