Image: Joseph Popper

This Guy Built a Life-Sized Model of a Drone Command Centre for Art

He also has a makeshift space shuttle.

May 1 2015, 5:15pm

Image: Joseph Popper

This is a life-size drone command centre, with a bit of a difference: It's made mainly of cardboard, with video footage of "drones" recreated from model railway materials.

Artist Joseph Popper unveiled his work "The Same Face" today as part of the House 2015 festival in Brighton; it was commissioned by House 2015 and the Lighthouse culture agency. At 2.4 metres tall and two metres wide, his makeshift command centre is on a 1:1 scale with the real thing. He told me he wanted to merge the enthusiasm of hobbyist flight simulator cockpits with the inevitable destructive and political connotations of a drone base.

"I'm playing on this uneasy similarity between the ground control stations that are used to operate drones in places like Afghanistan and Libya and so forth from trailer parks in the Nevada deserts, and also these handmade flight simulator cockpits, which is a different thing altogether," he said in a phone call. "But they share a lot of similarities whereby you have pilots stationed on the ground, looking through monitors and through imagery of places far away in a remote-viewing scenario."

"The Same Face." Image: Joseph Popper

The title "The Same Face" alludes to this mutual space inhabited by official or self-styled "commanders" with very different goals.

The sculptural piece isn't interactive. Located in a small room in the basement of the terraced Regency Town House, it's more like a stage set. The materials are purposefully simple: cardboard, timber, a few lights. Popper said he wanted to keep a sense of play by using low-fi techniques. It almost looks like a toy.

Predominantly a video artist, he made three films to include on the screens of the command centre. He made the landscapes for the videos himself—but far from lifesize, they're small models. These simulate the kind of onboard camera footage you'd expect to see from a drone's view.

"The Same Face." Image: Joseph Popper

If the sinister potential of the toy-like command centre wasn't already clear, the films reimagine an act of terror contextually linked to the installation's surroundings: the bombing of the Grand Hotel by the IRA in 1984.

Though he said he wasn't intending to communicate any particular message, but rather inspire people to think about the themes themselves, Popper admitted that his latest work has more overtly political connotations than previous films and installations.

The drone centre brings to mind his previous installation "The One-Way Ticket," for which Popper built a scale model of a space capsule, again out of low-end materials (his motto was "zero gravity, zero budget").

"The One-Way Ticket." Image: Joseph Popper

"I'm taking on the same approach with simple materials and it's also playing on this low budget but maximum effect approach," Popper said of his latest work, noting however that the drone piece was definitely a jump in terms of subject matter.

He's interested in the similarities between different uses of drones, from photography and toys to warfare and even political protest. He noted that just this week a protester was arrested for flying a drone carrying radioactive material onto the roof of the Japanese prime minister's office.

The observation of the parallels between hobby and warfare was the springboard for his piece, and he hopes that other will draw their own connections expanding on that.

"I hope it does provoke more questions or more ideas about who or why or what drones are used for, or by, or for what purpose, and how we deal with them as they become more a part of the everyday," he said.