James Bridle examines war in social-media age

by Cameron Allan Mckean

Special To The Japan Times

How differently do you think the project would have been viewed if the images of drone-attack sites were printed in a book? Is the context of the social networking site Instagram important?

Instagram is important because it’s a place where many people go every day to share photographs of their lives, making their direct experiences visible. The contradiction at the heart of “Dronestagram” is that these drone attacks, condemned by the U.N., are invisible acts of war in an age of mass media.

How is our view of war changing?

More than 100 years ago, illustrators were sent to battlefields to record the events there. War in the 20th century is defined by mass media images. But this war is a war carried out by largely unseen machines. At the same time we’ve been building this extraordinary infrastructure of seeing, from Instagram to Google Earth, allowing us to peer at any point on the Earth’s surface.

Instagram has no “dislike” button. What does that say about it as a technology for sharing these kinds of images?

Whether you personally want to click “like” on the image of a drone-strike location, or a dead Chechen insurgent, or a Palestinian child in the crosshairs of an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) sniper — which are all images you can, or could, find on Instagram — the application gives you no alternative voice, reinforcing the structural assumptions not only of the technology, but the politics which it both produces and is shaped by.

Do you feel there is a lack of activism in media art?

I think it’s significant that any art that deals with politics is considered to be “activist” simply by existing, as though politics is some separate domain we choose to engage in, rather than being intrinsically embedded in every object and action in the world.

What are your goals with “Dronestagram”?

It’s an act of making visible a political process. It’s also tied to issues of remote vision, the inherent invisibility of technologically augmented power, and the ways in which technology shapes and directs that power.

How has the world changed since you started it?

There has been a lot more public discussion of drones and covert warfare, but the fundamental issues at stake remain largely unchanged. We lack the right metaphors for grappling with these issues. “Dronestagram” is one attempt to provide such a metaphor. (C.A.M.)