Before you set foot in James Bridle's new exhibit at D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art, you will likely walk directly on top of its largest work: an outline of a Reaper drone, as though it were passing right overhead, on the sidewalk outside the museum, one block from the White House.
The piece stems from a conversation Bridle had with a friend, Einar Sneve Martinussen, in January of 2012. "We were trying to understand why [drones] were so compelling," Bridle said. "We were trying to understand why we were trying to understand them and what they meant, essentially." Bridle and Martinussen had a small model of one that they were staring at, "but," says Bridle, "it didn't help us, because we had no idea of the scale."
They went out to the parking lot outside Bridle's London studio with a diagram of a drone and a bit of chalk and sketched out a drone to actual size. "Suddenly it had this whole different weight to it. It totally transformed our understanding of what these things did and how they feel -- their effect in the world." It wasn't until later that he realized the chalk outline's primary connotation: a murder scene.
This piece, like all of the pieces in the exhibit, are borne of Bridle's struggle to understand drones -- what they are and what they mean for people and governments around the world. How can we understand something we can't see? For Bridle, making sense of drones begins with making them physical. They are, after all, a physical phenomenon, metal machines with corporeal effects. Perhaps by connecting with their material reality, by seeing them, we can understand them in a new way.