Unmanned Boredom

What’s a Killing Machine to Do When the Killing Stops?

Drones are being used for everything from taking photos to shipping books, but their most visible and relevant context seems to be a rich tradition of dropping bombs. Having established an era of arm’s-length lethal aerial dominance, future histories will likely forget that drones ever learned to deliver pizzas. But like hired mercenaries on the ground, surely they’ll have to find ways to occupy themselves once the target lists run dry?

Members of the Italian art collective IOCOSE were intrigued by the technology’s adaptations to activities both banal and brutal. Their photo series In Times Of Peace imagines a world where peacetime drones pass the time by taking selfies and morning jogs.

The project leaves it ambiguous whether all humans are gone, or whether this is some utopian world without war. As these machines increasingly make decisions of their own, the concept wavers between absurd and ominously plausible.

“Drones seemed to be the ideal technology for posing questions about the life of things,” says IOCOSE photographer Filippo Cuttica. “Drones are used at the same time for entertainment and for killing people, and are so disturbingly alive in their apparent autonomy.”

Shot over the summer of last year, the series is split into two halves. In one, a lone drone limps through a 100m sprint. In the other, drones pose in mirrors, apparently snapping vapid selfies with their built-in cameras (as opposed to using a selfie stick—please don’t buy that). Hovering like an adorable menace among the domestic miscellany of bedrooms and bathrooms, they create an unsettling contrast.

It’s a relevant juxtaposition — on the one hand, drones are found in numerous middle class households as part of a burgeoning hobbyist and commercial market; on the other, such quiet civilian scenes evoke the domestic environments drones are so often criticized for bombing.

“We like imagining that the creative potential of a drone is quite limited,” says Cuttica. “It is an extremely depressing life that we are trying to capture in this project, one where there is little left to imagination when war, oppression and violence are finished.”

Drones have become the object of intense philosophical and theoretical curiosity, as mechanical extensions of human will and a sign of a fundamental shift in our relationships with machines. Works like that of Patrick Cogan, or Patrick Lichty’s “The Private Life of a Drone” and essay “Drone: Camera, Weapon, Toy: The Aestheticization of Dark Technology” inspired and informed IOCOSE’s project.

In essence, the questions being asked hover around the identity we bestow on these devices, and their place in what we hope will be a peaceful future. The answers we arrive at won’t just affect them.

“The project is about banality and boredom, and the absence of any significant form of life in our daily activities and environments,” says Cuttica. “A problem which, of course, does not only affect drones.”

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