A lucid, unexpected look at how the drone imports its bloodied legacy into contemporary art and everyday life.
Small Gods deconstructs the mythology of the drone: as soothing sound, aerial spy, and killing machine. When we say 'drone technology,' we can mean the tanpura, a plucked-string instrument originating in 16th century India, or the Gorgon Stare, an aerial surveillance technology designed by the US military - and evoke competing notions of terror and transcendence. Small Gods leans into this ambiguity. As each chapter focuses on the work of an artist with a unique understanding of 'the drone', the book illuminates myriad facets of these entangled technological entities.
Opening with William Basinki's first glimpse of the ash-clouds of 9/11 - which spawned both The Disintegration Loops and the drone-driven War on Terror - the narrative then zooms into the representational sleights of hand of British and American artists preoccupied with the West's stake in endless drone wars. Its midsection lands us in the doldrums: where Anne Imhof's Angst, Anna Mikkola's drone-watched runner, and Atef Abu Saif's drone war memoir find maddening safety in boredom, raising questions about the trade-offs between security and surveillance. In the final section, the narrative uncouples from earthly oppression - we're freed to explore future and spirit worlds with artists including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Lawrence Lek, and WangShui, all of whom use drone technology to envision a future beyond the burden of colonialism, racism, exclusion or, simply, representation. Empty metal becomes a vessel for escape, connection, or intention; a future-facing spirit, a ride into the afterlife, a god or a ghost.
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Surprising, delightful, engrossing, disturbing, and ultimately inspiring, Small Gods is a thoughtful and and urgent meditation on the ways that life is being re-constituted by technology. Alex Quicho is a fiercely talented young writer who nestles unexpected insights into a well-researched study of contemporary art's engagement with drones, and of the drone's re-configuration of subjectivity and global systems. Relying on extensive interviews and fieldwork, she combines the affective poetry of art writing with the cold clarity of geopolitical analysis, and rightfully places these powerful new entities in the long history of a world forged through empire. As a result, Small Gods is revelatory. ~ Vincent Bevins, author of The Jakarta Method
"A luminous exploration of drone technology in the gallery and in open air, Alex Quicho gives form to the machinic gaze and asks what we see when we self-surveil, what view of the human is conjured by the drone's-eye perspective. Haunting and revelatory, this book will have you searching the skies above you for the unseen presence of these small gods, their hidden reach." ~ Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
Alex Quicho approaches her vivisection of the new, droning flesh with Ballardian playfulness, Mark Fisher’s ethical backbone, and Mary Shelley’s hunger for new visions. Some books I can see myself reading again and again, always discovering them anew; Small Gods, with its commitment to endless frontiers, metamorphosing skies, and slippages of the self and all other borders, is already one of them. ~ Ales Kot, author of Days of Hate