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Artists Imagine The Designer Drones Of The Future In Drones of New York

Rajeev Basu collaborates with a selection of artists and designers to imagine the customized UAVs of tomorrow.

In 2015 commercial drone flights will be allowed in the United States, while over in the UK there are already 130 organizations that have permission to fly drones in UK airspace. The drone age is fast approaching or at least that’s what it feels like—drones appear to be everywhere in the media these days, coming under criticism for eroding our privacy, allowing anonymous killing, and generally heralding the end of all things. But beyond the negativity, they’re also kind of fascinating with the eerie yet captivating way they can hover in the air and see the world through airborne eyes. They’re full of a foreboding potential for an unknown and undefined future where we haven’t quite worked out whether they’re good, bad, or just useful.


So it’s no surprise that artists have been incorporating them into their work for some time. From Marshmallow Laser Feast’s quadrotor light show to James Bridle’s Dronestagram project, they’re used as both technological artistic tool and as symbol for the autonomous nature of modern war or an increasingly surveyed society.

Rajeev Basu is an artist whose imagination they captured when he tackled them in his lighthearted Mr Drones project, which allowed people to customize their own drone by giving it an MS Paint-style makeover. In a continuation of that work Basu’s latest piece is called Drones of New York where he ponders what a future riddled with drones might be like.

To do this he recruited 13 international artists and designers who he admired—eBoy, Supermundane, Adhemas Batista to name three—to create designs on a drone art template which Basu put through a a custom webGL app then placed in New York via Google Street View. The results “some practical, others whimsical” are a selection of brightly colored and satirical UAVs that pay reference to Coca-Cola, John Lennon, or Coney Island’s Astroland.

As for their uses, they’re not all flying death machines, instead they range from welcoming visitors to theme parks, leading a halloween parade, keeping watch over a zoo, or just being a tourist. The designs are being showcased at the Drones of New York website and will also have a corresponding exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC, which begins on 8th February and will last for a month. We caught up with Basu via email to find out a bit more about the project.


The Astroland drone by Antonio Ladrillo with his drone art template underneath

The Creators Project: It seems most people have mixed reactions to drones, at once fascinated and terrified. Do you feel threatened by their upcoming commercial availability in 2015? Was that the motivation behind the project?
Rajeev Basu: I'm more curious. I think most us are still pretty detached from the reality of drones. We see them on TV used abroad in conflicts or on YouTube we watch quadrocopters doing party tricks in some MIT lab. I'm not sure we know the whole picture just yet, I'm not sure anyone does and that's what makes them so interesting for me. The article that sparked off the idea was this.

In Drones of New York the UAVs are designer pieces, like a custom Nike trainer or something. By satirizing them like this, are you hoping people will feel less threatened by them?
The media does a great job of portraying them in nightmare scenarios. What I hope my piece does is get people to at least think about them with an open mind. Sure, there are the privacy concerns that always come up, but there are useful things they could do for us too, like monitor crops, keep an eye on wildlife, and help us explore.

Supermundane’s drone and his template

A few artists are now tackling drone culture in various pieces. Other than topicality, what is it about them that has captured your imagination as an artist?
I still find them mind-blowing at the very simplest level. Pretty soon these affordable, powerful, mini chunks of metal and plastic that think for themselves will be flying over our heads. They might be helping our police, or delivering a package, or whatever. It's just that: the fact we don't know. But soon there are going to be lots of them. Everywhere.


Were there any rules or limitations that the artists had to follow or adhere to?
My brief to them was open. Artists were free to imagine what their drone in New York would be. Real, practical, or totally fantastical, it was up to them. What's interesting is that very few went with something negative, most artists imagined something playful or whimsical. Like the “John Lennon memorial drone” that continuously circles the block where he was shot. Or the “zoo drone” that watches over the animals in Central Park Zoo.

John Lennon drone by Kyle Platts

eBoy’s drone

What can we except to see in the installation and how does it correspond to the website?
The installation is a partner presentation to the website, a photo showcase of artist drones in locations across New York. You can see half the artworks on the website, but to see all of them you'll need to visit the installation. You can take home a copy of the Drones of New York artpiece at the Museum of Moving Image by inserting a DVD-R into the slot in the side of the building.

Drone templates