Research Update: Drones are Artists


Active externalism is defined by Terry Dartnell (2001) as a belief in the mind to “extend” itself beyond human flesh. The notion that since civilisation and the production of tools, humans have been extending themselves with early forms of technology. Roudavski (2016) states “the human mind one can encounter today depend on technologies and practices of communicating, remembering and planning”. The most basic example of this is the pencil. It is a tool that is used to communicate, remember and plan.

7cb69211bcc292bc877c7a7cccdb6d68.jpgHistorically, humans have been inventing tools since the Stone Age with basic hunting instruments.  The development of technologies continued and boomed with Industrialisation from the 18th century. The printing press changed the game (so to speak) as it influenced how humanity could collaborate with forms of technology to produce. It advanced humanity through the idea of printing. Andy Clark’s Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence (2003) suggests that we have always been cyborgs. The question is raised whether we have been cyborg-like since civilisation and with the creation of language or more recently with devices? Clark claims notebooks act as a continuation of our thoughts, therefore are a form of technology in extending our mind. Despite the connection between our minds and bodies, boundaries still remain. These boundaries offer the chance to enhance our surface self through the various forms of technology. In today’s context, we are overwhelmed with the numerous versions of technology that have the ability to extend our fleshed self. For example, drone technology as it autonomously listens to instructions given by its controller; its human.

Typically, drones are associated with military aspects of a country’s government. Negative connotations follow drones as they are used in warfare.  Not all drones are predators which are referred to as an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’. The political shift that occurred post 9/11 increased to the use of drones within environments of war. However, through the commercialisation of drones for the everyday person, they no longer have the one purpose. Drones can be predators but also filmmakers, photographers, and artists.  Their purpose has grown with today’s society and culture. Drones extend the paintbrush for the artist. The canvas is no longer limited by what the human hand can do but how the drone can be directed to create. A paintbrush is another example of Clark’s notion of tools increasing our human potential. As Donna Haraway writes in A Cyborg Manifesto (1991), “writing, power, technology are old partners in Western stories of the origin of civilization”.  When thinking of artificial intelligence, the feeling of fear surrounds society.

A new aspect of the creative process is added to the use of drones as one must negotiate with space in order to include the drone as a collaborator of the work. The artist must allow room for the drone’s participation. The engagement between the artist (human) and the drone is necessary for the art to be made. The exhibition, First Person View at the Knockdown Centre in Maspeth, Queens highlights this idea of space. In this exhibition, the public is encouraged to fly the drones provided. This removes the boundaries of being human and our inability to fly and adapt our size to fit certain spaces. The attendees become the drone, thus the drone becomes an extension of themselves.

Belquer, D & Vavarella, E (2016) MNEMODRONE: Chapter 3


An example of this includes the MNEMODRONE project. This project is directed by artist, Daniel Belquer as it attempts to share human memories with a drone. The aim of this project is to allow a drone to “access a database of human memories and freely perform actions in response to external situations” (Vavarella 2016, p. 71). As a form of artificial intelligence, the drone becomes its own entity. DisplayDrone (2013) is another example of how drones are given the ability to exhibit ideas within the public sphere. This display in Germany allows a drone, alongside a projector to “spontaneously create public displays” (Scheible 2017, p. 48). Yet another example is Laura Poitras’ spring 2016 exhibition, Astro Noise celebrates how a drone can create as if it were human. Astro Noise exhibited in New York at the Whitney Museum, it showcased “…feeds of encrypted data, collected by an Israeli drone, intercepted by British surveillance, and released by Snowden” (Vanderburg 2016, p. 7). Interestingly, this piece debates the relationship between art and politics through drone technology.

The question continues, can things; technologies be as creative as humans? Is this even possible since our creativity comes from our emotions? Humanity can be restrictive to how we create but ultimately, it forces us to create.


  • Dartnell T, 2004, ‘We Have Always Been… Cyborgs’, Metascience, 13, pp. 139 -181.
  • Haraway, D 1991, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, Routledge, p. 13.
  • Roudavski, S 2016, ‘Field creativity and post-anthropocentrism’, Digital Creativity, 27:1, pp. 7-23.
  • Scheible J, 2017, ‘Using Drones for Art and Evergaming’, Pervasive Computing, 16:1, pp. 48-56.
  • Vanderburg C, 2016, ‘Drone Art’, Culture Front: Dissent, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 7-10.
  • Vavarella E, 2016, ‘Interview with the drone: experimenting with post-anthropocentric art practice’, Digital Creativity, 27:1, pp. 71-81.


















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