In this week's episode, Alice interviews award-winning artist Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox. Kathryn started painting as a child, selling her first piece of art at just 14 years old, winning her first major art competition at 16, and holding her first exhibition at 17. She has since exhibited not just in her native Australia but in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, South Korea, Norway London and New York. Her art takes inspiration from nature and the cosmos, and in recent years she has focused particularly on the existential threats posed to us and our world by emerging technologies. This has led her to look at military technologies – something which she is exploring academically as well as artistically through a PhD. Kathryn uses the powerful analogue medium of painting to ask huge questions about new media, especially those that use the electromagnetic spectrum: a natural phenomenon which we can’t see with the naked eye but which many are using for commercial and/or coercive purposes. Fundamentally, her art is a powerful exercise in visualisation, inviting us to look deep into the past as well as the future, and to pay attention to phenomena that threaten our landscape and human existence. In particular, she focuses attention on the 'everywhere war': the increasing blurring of military and civilian technologies and activities, a development which challenges our long-established habits of visualising (and separating) 'war' and 'peace'.
In the podcast, Kathryn describes her approach as 'imaginational metaveillance' - a term she has come up with to capture the critical, analytical observations that her art performs by taking us to places we can only go in our imaginations and getting us to look critically at things we cannot physically see. In her paintings, she invites us to fly, so that we can look down from above earth's atmosphere, seeing natural clouds but also online/digital 'clouds' that swirl everywhere, and the invisible grids that criss-cross earth and sky, measuring our every move and harvesting our data.
Kathryn explains why she uses age-old symbols like the Tree of Life to help viewers connect with the whole span of human history as they visualise future threats and possibilities, both military and civilian - or a combination of the two. We discuss her artistic style, which draws readers in with lots of colour and beautiful aesthetics, and also the responses which viewers often have to her art: most are enthusiastic, until they look closely and grasp its worrying 'revelations' about the threats that lurk in our present and future.
This gets us talking about the impact which Kathryn wants to have with her art. Among other places, Kathryn has exhibited her art at the Australian Defence College, and she has enjoyed the many reflective conversations it has opened up with lots of different visitors. She believes that the critical and imaginative visions of past, present and future which art can prompt us to engage with have much to contribute to policy-making and strategic thinking, and she describes her own work as a form of quiet activism, opening up dialogue and inviting people to engage with big questions.
We hope that our podcast conversation with Kathryn does exactly this for you! A blog with some of the images we discuss is available here, and listeners can find more examples and analysis of Kathryn's art on her blog. For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. For more information, please visit the University of St Andrews Visualising War website.