The skies will begin to thicken and swarm next year, when the Federal Aviation Administration opens up U.S. airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Initially developed and used by the military, drones are now being made for civil and commercial purposes and are widely expected to revolutionize the way we live. They’ll deliver pizzas, monitor crops, and gather information about forest fires, according to a recent spate of news articles.
Not all of the news is positive, though. Opposition to drones includes horror at civilian deaths overseas and concerns for privacy at home. The coming invasion of drones is a complex and controversial issue, making it an ideal theme for an art exhibit by Gallery Project, known for exploring culturally significant topics and unconventional ideas through art.
Featuring more than thirty-five regional, national, and international artists, Drones includes works that creatively consider drones and their applications, capabilities, and potential impact on society. The exhibit is curated by Gallery Project co-founders Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet, whose nonprofit gallery occupied 215 S. Fourth Avenue for eight years before vacating last year. “We’re changing, not closing,” Pritschet told the Observer at the time, and change has indeed been liberating for this self-described “gallery of ideas.” It’s expanded its audience by organizing Drones as a dual-site exhibit: it opened in a large warehouse in Detroit’s Eastern Market before moving to its current location at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
Among several sculptural representations of drones, two large and particularly well-crafted works are UAV, a copper and ceramic dragonfly by Michigan artist James Freeman, and Orcinus Messor Calestis, MDF, a fantastical figure by Flint native Arnold Patrick Martin that is half airplane, half killer whale skeleton. Both works are uncanny: I was initially enchanted by their sleek and whimsical forms, but the longer I gazed, the more each sculpture struck me as strange, distant, dangerous. (In addition to sharp teeth, the killer whale is armed with missiles.)
To avoid drone surveillance and identification, try holding a broom in front of your face. Such is one tip offered by Sarah Buckius’s DIY Instructables: Drone-Proof Identity Protection, a hilarious series of prints that illustrate absurd methods of disguise. Another innovative method of camouflage designed by the up-and-coming Brooklyn-based artist Adam Harvey is Stealth Wear, a collection of clothes made out of a metallic fabric that reflects heat, allegedly hiding the wearer from a drone’s thermal-imaging camera. Harvey also offers the “Anti-Drone Burqa,” an article of clothing that has already rendered its wearer invisible.
Not all of the works portray drones as ominous. The vivid photographs in Domestic Drone Series, by Los Angeles-based photographer Gregg Segal, feature drones handled by men–law enforcement officers, a research scientist–in vast and rich outdoor spaces where these flying robots promise to make certain jobs easier.
These are just a few of the surprising and cutting-edge works in Drones. Gallery Project, though uprooted, has lost none of its vigor. The exhibit runs through February 16.