The Battlefield of Vision:
Perceptions of War and Wars on Perception.
Track chair Matt Wraith (Royal College of Art, London)
The US military strategy of ‘Rapid Dominance’ summarises its aim as being ‘to affect the will, perception, and understanding of the adversary to fight or re… through imposing a regime of Shock and Awe… [to] paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance…’
Throughout the history of war, armies have waged battle, not only against their opponent’s lives or bodies, or their infrastructure or material but against their perception, the visual comprehension of their own environment. In parallel to this, a huge amount of technological innovation has been invested in magnifying, extending and enhancing an army’s power of sight. The field of vision has always been a major battlefield in any armed conflict. During the First World War, for example, Cubist and Vorticist techniques for disrupting an object’s visible outline were employed in military camouflage, like painted Dazzle-Ships (see below). The artistic technique was weaponized.
This visual battle has intensified in recent decades with the arrival of drone technologies and other systems in which machines have been given the power to see and interpret its environment. The faculty of battlefield-perception has been ceded to technology in many ways.
The Mexican-American philosopher Manuel Delanda’s 1991 book War in the Age of Intelligent Machines opens with a discussion of the ‘machine-vision’ of US combat vehicles like PROWLER which constitute both an integration of human and machine into a single assemblage and a radical deterritorialization of the faculty of human perception.
Papers under this topic would explore techno-visual warfare and the effects on the visual culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and how artistic techniques of representing and defamiliarizing landscapes can feed back into the process of war. Paper may include but not confined to: “Images of war and war-propaganda”, “The involvement of mass-media in the battlefield”, “War-paint in ancient and tribal societies”, “Visual insignia in armed conflict”, “Camouflage and its representation in art and its commodification in fashion”, “Information Warfare”, “Uses of AI and machine perception in War and Visual Culture”, “The history of military strategy”.