Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Drone graffiti, drone photography, drone Instagram, and more.
It was dark and quiet in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning at the intersection of Lafayette and Houston in NYC. Suddenly: a buzzing. The grafitti artist KATSU was taking his customized Phantom drone for its first vandalizing spin.
Outfitted with a spray can of red paint, KATSU's small, white drone hovered near a six-story Calvin Klein advertisement featuring the model and reality television star Kendall Jenner. And then, it began to draw.
This is how the age of drone graffiti begins: with a few horizontal slashes across the mug of a member of the Kardashian clan. "It’s exciting to see [the drone's] first potential use as a device for vandalism,” KATSU told Wired.
If the art seems less than impressive, remember that this particular huge New York City advertisement site has never before been accessible to vandals, even the most innovative and acrobatic ones. The re-purposed drone is also very, very difficult to drive, as KATSU explained to Bard College's Center for the Study of the Drone last year.
It’s like 50 percent me having control and 50 percent the drone kind of like saying, "I need to turn this way to accomplish what you want me to do but still maintain myself so I don’t just fly into the wall and explode." Which it does, all the time.
KATSU isn't the only one exploring the artistic potential of drones. Other artists have taken to the to unmanned aircraft as well. The Knockdown Center, a 50,000 square foot art space in Queens, will commission seven artists to create "the first-ever art-installation-drone obstacle course" this summer. Proposing artists are asked to consider the "atypical point of view" of the drone as they construct their pieces, as visitors will only be able to view the installations through the eyes of the unmanned drones they are remotely piloting.
Photographers have taken to the drone, as well. The group Elevated Element, a husband and wife team of drone photographers, released a collection of drone-assisted photographs of Charm City called Drone Art: Baltimore in 2013. Photographer Matt Satell publishes his drone photographs, shot from as high up at 400 feet in the air, to his Philly by Air website. “It's almost like something out of a movie, the kind of perspectives that you can see,” he told CityLab last year.
Other artists see the drone as something much more sinister, which shapes the art they make. An artist collective based in Pakistan and the U.S. created the project "Not A Bug Splat" last spring, which placed huge portraits of drone strike victims in heavily bombed regions of Pakistan. "We want to shame drone operators and make them realize the human cost of their actions," an anonymous member of the collective told CNN.
Dronestagram, a project of the British writer and artist James Bridle, posted images of the locations of drone strikes to Instagram between 2012 and early 2015. "Making these locations just a little bit more visible, a little closer," Bridle wrote on his website. "A little more real."
December 6 2014: Drones supported the US-led raid on Dafaar in southeastern Shabwa province. In the course of the raid, two hostages, UK-born US photographer Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie were killed, alongside eleven others, including a woman and 10-year old child. #drone #drones #yemen
City of drones
Others are using drones to think about the future of cities. Liam Young, John Cale, and FIELD.IO created the online art installation LOOP>>60Hz: City of Drones last year to explore a cityscape where drones are "ubiquitous as pigeons"—one that could exist soon. "We need to start accepting that and thinking: What could drones be as enabling objects?" Young told CityLab. "Might we have a drone familial that follows us around? When we’re walking home at night from the Tube, can we call a drone to light our way?"
Through the cockpit of the artists' digital drone, the city is a shadowy place, full of stark geometric shapes and other gliding machines, but no people—including Kendall Jenner—at all.