The war on the border between Gaza and Israel is one of man and machine, a story that the artist Ronnie Karfiol portrays with her work »1001 Drone Nights« for the web residencies by Solitude & ZKM on the topic »Violent Consumer Media« curated by Dani Ploeger. The artist reflects on the culture and society that attracts people to participate in the »maker« war play, in which homemade kites fight against drones. In our interview with the artist we talk about gamification as a means to represent violence and how the web residency project at first appears to be an orchestrated battlefield, but actually is an invitation is to take a critical look at this »maker« battlefield.
Schlosspost: What interested you in applying for the Web Residency »Violent Consumer Media« curated by Dani Ploeger?
Ronnie Karfiol: I was intrigued by this call because Dani’s wording of this topic sounded much like the artistic research I was working on since the end of 2018. Specifically, both the role of the maker movement, which leads to weapons’ production, as well as the aspect of the aesthetic representation of a battle as it is being broadcasted on the media are aspects which I was very interested in and felt like I could develop in this project if I will be chosen.
»I can say that as a local who grew up in Israel, I am quite familiar with the history of the clashes in this region. However, in this case, I noticed a very strange and different »trend« in the direction and participants of the war play: the culture and society that pulls people to participate in this »maker« way.«
SP: With your proposal 1001 Drone Nights you refer to the war between drones and kites on the border between Gaza Strip and Israel. Can you share your interest in focusing on this particular battle?
RK: In the beginning, my interest was aesthetic. I was seeing some screenshots of a video depicting the battle between the drone and the kite and was immediately drawn to these surreal images. Then, these battles became recurrent and I started to follow their depictions on news media outlets more closely, also paying attention to questions like – who creates these semi-autonomous weapons? Why do they choose to do it in a DIY manner? What is the reasoning behind using drones to combat kites and/or balloons? Moreover, I can say that as a local who grew up in Israel, I am quite familiar with the history of the clashes in this region. However, in this case, I noticed a very strange and different »trend« in the direction and participants of the war play, one that demands both a closer look at the details and a broader look – on the culture and society that pulls people to participate in this »maker« way.
SP: How do you refer to the current battle with your work and what role does the gamification of this battle play within the context of your project and research?
RK: With my work, because my first pull was towards the aesthetics of this battle play, and because I mainly work with digital media, I had decided to »play« with the weapons in my computer, specifically in 3D. For this, I turned to my computer to model and recreate them. Then, I was somehow constantly frustrated with the blurry images the news media outlets broadcasted. So, I had decided to recreate this battle myself, while allowing some artistic freedom to elaborate on the choreography of the drone and kite. On the media, I saw both depiction that were shot from what I’d call a First Person Shooter viewpoint (mainly from a drone carrying a camera) and a Third Person Shooter viewpoint (mainly from a camera aimed at the skies and documenting). I concluded that I’d rather recreate the battle from a Third Person viewpoint, because it gives the viewer some »space« and so one doesn’t immediately identify with one side or the other. Also, aesthetically, it allows the viewer to watch for a far more elaborate dynamics between the drone and the kite unfold.
»In my project, the users will find themselves »adding« or »contributing« to the war machine almost unbeknownst. In a sense, this is also a reflection of how we add or contribute to machines in our world today.«
SP: The work is set up as an online space, and has a focus on the gaze of machines. Where the viewer or player almost becomes part of the machine, can you tell us more about the gaze and how this comes to expression in the work?
RK: I think there is a lot to say about this gaze which rules our world more and more everyday. We would like to think this gaze is neutral; but of course it isn’t. Every machine gaze is developed by humans after all; they design the technology and they write the code, ultimately. There is a lot of critique around AI, for example, because it has been proved there are malicious biases surrounding race, gender, etc. However, my take on that is usually more emotional. I like to use the machine gaze in an imperfect manner and connect the human to the machine. In my project, the users will find themselves »adding« or »contributing« to the war machine almost unbeknownst. In a sense, this is also a reflection of how we add or contribute to machines in our world today.
SP: What can we find in the online space, and how can the user navigate it?
RK: In the online space you can find first a video animation depicting the battle. Each time you enter the online space, the video shown will switch. Then, you can choose to participate and »choose a weapon.« This will open a menu showing both drone and kite. After you make up your mind and choose one, you can download both the model itself – a 3D ready-for-print model, as well as the make/use instructions. But keep your eyes open and your toes ready, because something strange might happen after that …
SP: You create several animations of DIY drones. What are the different possibilities and how does this affect the battlefield?
RK: One possibility is that the kite can overpower the drone – although the drone’s technology seems superior to that of the kite, in actuality sometimes the kite gathers more power in the situation by making use of the wind’s direction and speed and so its elaborate shape manages to entangle the drone. Another possibility is that the drone might overcome the kite and force it down. Yet another possibility, my favorite one actually, is that there is no classic, definite »winner« in this situation, as both drone and kite become so enmeshed and entangled that there is no clear cut to this battle. To me, this possibility highlights the infectivity of war itself, as well as the shared history of the drone and the kite.
SP: Now with the development of new weapons technology, also wars become so embedded in everyday life, which you quoted in your proposal by Paul Virilio as »Pure War.« Can you elaborate on this?
RK: In short, I understand Virilio is pointing to the fact that we as human society both have the tendency to want to distance ourselves from war – so by using technology, like drone fighting, we can achieve that, while also needing to sustain the ecosystem producing these distancing war technologies economically. This, quite naturally, leads to the society relying more and more on the production of these technologies (whereas they also start to serve different goals other than fighting …)
»I believe the animations may seem quite abstract to the viewer who does not know this specific conflict, however I hope that they will develop some »emotional hook« depending on the video’s outcome.«
SP: What role do games play in the representations of violence?
RK: I believe games play a role first and foremost even in the conceptualization of violence itself. For example, I believe that as people become more and more fascinated by war games, they can adopt the same »virtual« mindset to view war in real life through the same lens. Meaning, if one is so used to launch attacks against strangers’ avatars in Fortnite, one can also find it easier to attack an unknown other by using a semi-autonomous weapon, like a drone or a kite. It even becomes something you want to get addicted to or get good at.
SP: How would you like your Web Residency project being used, and what effect can it ultimately have on the user?
RK: I view the project as two parts that make a whole. The first is the somewhat passive part: viewing the animations, which are drawn randomly. I believe the animations may seem quite abstract to the viewer who does not know this specific conflict, however I hope that they will develop some »emotional hook« depending on the video’s outcome. Or maybe they will simply get intrigued – why is this drone fighting a kite? What are they doing, is it a dance? Is it orchestrated sky magic? Then comes the second part, which I deem the active part. By seeing the option to choose a weapon, the viewer ultimately becomes a user, and needs to make a decision which weapon to choose. Then, ultimately, of course I wish that at least some users will try to print the model, or at least read the instruction manuals. In this way, I let them reverse-engineer the actual contemporary political/technological topic at play here. In any case, I have decided it is better this way, than stating early on what the real thing going on behind this project is. I want them to play, and think critically about things as they unfold. Finally, there will be a postscript explaining the background and history behind all of this project, which I hope some people will take the time to read.
The interview was conducted by Sarie Nijboer.