Learning to love the drone

. December 23, 2013.

The Ann Arbor Art Center, founded in 1909, is one of Michigan’s oldest visual arts organizations, and, maybe, its most vibrant. It hosts monthly art exhibitions for the public, teaches studio art and art appreciation courses, organizes youth art camps throughout the year, runs an outstanding Gallery Shop promoting regional artists, and puts on special events—parties, really—such as Artini, Paint the Town and the Ann Arbor Art and Brew. Opening on Friday, January 3 and running through Sunday, February 16 is perhaps the edgiest, most politically charged show in the Art Center’s history: “DRONES.” Yes, those drones, the ones that are blowing up bad guys and—oops—sometimes an innocent bystander by mistake. They’re also ideal for surveillance at home and abroad to an extent that would have given George Orwell cold sweats. And there’s so much more to learn and think about drones, which is the purpose of this exciting, must-see exhibition.

Drones may be a technology just as disruptive as were the train, steamship, automobile and computer. Their flight can be controlled remotely or pre-programmed with global positioning like the Amazon Books drones featured recently on “60 Minutes.” Same day delivery! There are Micro Air Vehicles that are bird or even insect size that can work in “swarms.” So-called hummingbird drones are the size of quarters and predator drones are 68 feet long. Drones can monitor pipelines and water levels, map archeological digs, pollution and forest fires. They can track wildlife and poachers, search for fugitives or people who are lost, and drop supplies. Someday, no doubt, we’ll see them in the Big House giving us up close and personal gridiron shots of our Wolverine Victors Valiant.

The swarm

“DRONES” is a multimedia spectacle featuring 41 local, regional, national and international artists who explore the phenomenon of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from 41 unique perspectives. The show includes “Drone Shadows 004” by British artist, James Bridle, which appeared recently at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away from the White House. It is an eerie, life-size, crime-scene-like white outline of a reaper drone.

Also in the show is a selection from Adam Harvey’s Stealth Wear, a drone-proof clothing line. It’s made of lightweight, flexible metalized fabric to reflect heat and conceal the wearer’s thermal signature, and lined in silk to add to the flowy effect. Stealth Wear is a real collection, including a burka, a hijab and a hoodie. How real is it? The garments cost from $500 to $600 each.

Drones for thought

“DRONES” is brought to us by the Gallery Project, now in its eighth year, a flourishing contemporary art collective run by artist volunteers. The show is curated by Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet, Gallery Project founders and contributors to the exhibit. The Art Center is the second stop for “DRONES” which was a smash hit when it appeared in Detroit’s Eastern Market last year.

Perhaps my personal favorite of the show is by Adam Shiverdecker, a potter and currently professor at the University of Toledo and Resident Artist at Greenwich House Pottery in New York City. He has his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of South Carolina and has exhibited as far afield as China and Australia. Although he appreciates the sleekness, power and materiality of machines of war, Adam is a dyed in the wool pacifist and envisions a world in which all military arsenals are pushed into the sea. For this exhibition he has taken the form of a predator drone and denatured its surface  with irregular amounts of clay, thus allowing for an arbitrary but inevitable process of decay. It works for me, even as we are being ushered into an unpredictable and as yet unfathomable era of the drones.

“DRONES” will be on display at The Ann Arbor
Art Center from Friday, January 3 through Sunday,
February 16. 117 W Liberty St. 734-994-8004.
annarborartcenter.org Free.

 

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