Drone Shadow

Introduction to Literary and Cultural Analysis Course 2023

Bring the drone home; we can finally see its true size!

The Drone Shadow in Beursplein aimed to lift the veil of silence around this subject matter by bringing a representation of a combat drone to the center of Amsterdam, while showing its true, terrifying size.

The use of combat drones in modern warfare has sparked a wide range of cultural responses. The most prominent example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been a frequently discussed affair. People around the world were, and are still shocked by the brutality of the Israeli (drone) attacks on Palestinian civilians and fighters. Using drones for targeted killings and airstrikes raises questions about its moral and ethical implications. Therefore, we wanted to focus on the aspect of using drones as a symbol of imperialism and unlawful bombings for our public intervention. 

The Drone Shadow in Beursplein public intervention was inspired by James Bridle’s Drone Shadow installations that have sprung up over the last decade in Europe and the U.S. The artist’s aim was to direct public attention to the United States’ and its allies’ use of Unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV’s) to conduct covert bombings in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, etc. Drone strikes are notoriously known for causing excessive collateral damage to civilian infrastructure and needless non-combatant casualties. Drone warfare raises concerns of international law violation, owing to the virtual impossibility of determining precise counts of civilian deaths, as well as breaching the territorial integrity of sovereign states. In the modern world combat drones have become a universal symbol of unlawful aggression, unaccountability for committed war crimes and state imperialism. Moreover, our project took inspiration from Judith Butler’s book Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? Butler draws attention to how public perception of war is shaped by national discourse and media: “When the state issues directives on how war is to be reported, indeed on whether war is to be reported at all, it seems to be trying to regulate the understanding of violence, or the appearance of violence within a public sphere. Although the frame initiates (as part of weaponry) or finishes off (as part porting) a whole set of murderous deeds, and seeks to subordinate the visual field to the task of war waging, its success depends upon a successful conscription of the public. Our responsibility to resist war depends in part on how well we resist that daily effort at conscription” (Butler 2009). 

The Drone Shadow in Beursplein aimed to lift the veil of silence around this subject matter by bringing a representation of a combat drone to the center of Amsterdam, while showing its true, terrifying size. We have chosen a public place – the Beursplein – as our location since many people, including tourists, pass this location, rendering it highly visible. In addition to that, there is a livestream from a surveillance camera on a nearby tower, which recorded the whole process. This is one of the few places where Dutch citizens, immigrants, tourists, but also livestream watchers around the globe could see the art piece at the same time. Apart from this, the building where the webcam is placed also houses the stock market. This conjecture of surveillance and capital seemed to pull in important aspects of the discussion we intended to create through our interventions. The distance that looking from afar through the webcam creates, and the capital that is involved in the manufacturing, distribution and use of weaponry coagulated strikingly in this space.

Our art piece was a combat drone. In order to design it, we consulted the Drone Shadow Handbook that contained the exact measurements and outlines succinctly. We first drew the outline with chalk, while using measuring tapes. After measuring, we started taping our drone outline. We also watched the livestream on our phones, to see what the design looked like from afar. Having taped the wings, tail and main body of the drone, we lastly taped its nose. When the piece was done, we took more photos of its whole and took screenshots of the livestream. 

Due to environmental and social implications, we had to remove the tape from the ground after all our efforts. A restaurant owner was not pleased with our artwork and thought it would “disturb his clients”. In addition to that, tape might be bothersome for the street cleaners and is most certainly bothersome for the environment. Hopefully, the passersby, tourists, watchers and art enthusiasts have seen one thing: the continuous Nakba of the Palestinian nation.