Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: The Chavez Way
Next story: Thomas Webb, Chuck Tingley, Max Collins, and OGRE at Hi-Temp Fabrication

Peter Sowiski's artwork at Indigo Art Gallery

Reaper, Raptor, Soldier, Sky

The title of printmaker/papermaker artist Peter Sowiski’s exhibit at the Indigo Art Gallery is Reaper, Raptor, Soldier, Sky, the subtitle, Observations in Paper. The odd-sounding preposition is precise. The images—of drone and other military aircraft and their human attendants and some avian analogues—are not on paper, but in the paper, created as part of the papermaking process, by the application of different-hued pulp slurries—the raw material of the ultimate paper—onto the draining and initial drying step screen.

"Light Attack" by Peter Sowiski.
"Service Figure-Detonation" by Peter Sowiski.

The multiple slurry applications result in a layered paper, which the artist has produced in huge sheets, the better to present his huge and powerful black silhouette images against gray backgrounds that on closer observation feature subtle blends of spectrum colors from red to blue-green to purple.

The brute power connotations of the military imagery contrast with the delicacy and fragility connotations of the hand-made paper artifact. This contrast by way of aesthetic precursor to the sociopolitical contrast the artist is at pains to expound between master and servant connotations of the activities the human actors, seen and unseen, are engaged in, with their drones and other advanced technologies.

In the drones matter, which are the masters, which are the servants, he asks in essence in an artist’s statement. Drones are supposed to work for us, is the idea, but what the artworks depict is field military personnel working to make the technology work. (And ancillary military activities that could be broadly categorized as making the world safe for technology.) But then from the role hierarchy ambiguity, it’s not much of a conceptual leap to the moral ambiguity about the use of drones. Does the technology determine the ethics, the artwork asks by implication.

As to the role hierarchy ambiguity, not so compelling. As to the moral ambiguity, quite compelling. Drones do perform work for us. Dirty work, especially. Even make it look clean, in a way. That is, make it so we don’t have to look. But preserve American lives, though at substantial hazard to non-American lives, including innocent lives, by all accounts. But ample moral justification for most Americans.

But no doubt either about the moral slippery slope—slippery precipice—we’re on in the whole drones matter, even from a blinders-on American-centric point of view. You don’t have to like Rand Paul to have admired the filibuster he staged two weeks ago to get the Obama administration to clear up the small point about whether they felt they could assassinate an American on American soil for whatever reasons all their own.

Among the drone depictions, various other military technology, including conventional manned-version combat and transport helicopters, a stinger missile launcher, and actual-size stinger missile on a horizontal row of six separate smaller paper panels. And biological bird analogues to the technological aircraft, a variety of raptors, hawks, and eagles.

The ambiguity spreads to the military personnel. Depicted in silhouette and variously simpatico, for the dangerous work they are doing—one of the pieces is called Service Figure—Detonation, apparently about dismantling an improvised explosive device, another Service Figure—Run, about some possibly similar action or situation in which, if you act or react fast enough, you might save your life—but hulking figures in outline, a little primitive-looking, a little like the drones, they do the job, they don’t think. (The job is not to think, better not to think.)

In addition to the pulp-constructed works, the exhibit includes a number of serigraph (silk screen) prints and relief (wood block or other material) prints on smaller sheets of similarly hand-made paper. One of an RQ Shadow vehicle, a smallish basically surveillance and reconnaissance drone. One a front-on view of an MQ-9 Reaper drone, readying for takeoff. As of 2008, the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing, at Hancock Field, Syracuse, transitioned from piloted jets entirely to MQ-9 Reaper vehicles, the first US military fighter squadron to convert to all-unmanned craft. Chief of Staff of the Air Force General T. Michael Moseley said at the time: “We’ve moved from using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) primarily in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance roles…to a true hunter-killer role with the Reaper.”

A news report last week predicted drone technology and operations—particularly as the private sector starts utilizing this technology—as a new major growth industry for New York State.

The Peter Sowiski exhibit continues through March 30.

blog comments powered by Disqus