Skeptical authorities confront the Drone Ready-Made: Fine Military Detritus in San Diego (image via @pscopeproject)

SAN DIEGO — Ahead of the upcoming Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair (September 1–4), the Periscope Project, a collective of artists, architects and urban planners, are taking to the streets of San Diego with a project that confronts the city’s military complex, conservative politics and its reputation as a non-cultural hot spot.

Tag from the appropriated logistical Predator Drone shipping container (image via Periscope’s Facebook Page)

The project in question, dubbed Drone Ready-Made: Fine Military Detritus, revolves around an authentic logistical container used to transport the infamous Predator Drones currently deployed by the United States in military operations around the world.

The impetus for the project is homegrown. The Drones, whose deployment in unmanned air strikes and reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as well as on the US/Mexico border has shot up under Obama, are developed by General Atomics in San Diego County. Their facilities in Poway are in the district of outspoken Republican congressman Darrell Issa, whose highly questionable practices have been the subject of recent scrutiny by the New York Times, and others.

According to Public Campaign Action, General Atomics, who are big donors to Issa, received at least $296 million in federal government contracts in 2009 alone  — around $150 million more than the entire NEA budget proposed by Obama.

Periscope artists inhabiting the Drone Ready-Made in proximity of General Atomics in Poway and on North Island in San Diego (courtesy The Periscope Project)

In an odd twist of fate, Periscope acquired the General Atomics drone container from Craigslist, the online classifieds service, in the early months of 2011, ostensibly after the unit had served its intended purpose of delivering a Predator Drone MQ-1 UAV for America’s use in the unmanned missions that some say exacerbate our war efforts more than they advance them.

After getting their hands on the container, Periscope artists (who have the know-how) refurbished it as a “threadbare mobile living unit” which has since served as a site for exploring the effects of the military production on San Diego’s landscape.

Inheriting from art history their ready-made methodology, Periscope posits the container as a “coffin” or “sarcophagus,” transforming the object into an artifact embedded with the sense of death and dread that its previous contents likely still deliver today. The group transported this “coffin” around the city, documenting it in proximity to sites of collision between San Diego’s military complex and the city’s residents, including General Dynamics Nassco shipyard (just blocks from the Periscope campus), the Gaslamp Quarter, Lindberg Field, General Dynamics Convair Division production plant, General Atomics Aeronautics and Northrop Grumman.

This “pilgrimage,” which took place over the weekend, serves as the starting point for a dialogue and exhibition that will continue into this week and beyond, bringing to the fore issues that dominate San Diego (and many other American cities) without always being readily visible.

As part of the Art Labs initiative of the ART SAN DIEGO Fair, now in its third year, Periscope will stage an exhibition titled Adaptable Sites, a collaboration with artist and filmmaker Bill Daniel, who will show “Eden V.2” along with an installation titled Tumbleweed Connection.

Daniel, whose work was screened at MoMA last February, is an apt collaborator for the Drone Ready-Made, with his Tumbleweed Connection that imagines “post-industrial collapse culture” fitting in nicely with Periscope’s appropriated military “detritus.”

Brian Zimmerman and Nina Preisendorfer, “Self-titled” (2011), Courtesy of the Artists

In addition to the Adaptable Sites, the Art Labs initiative will collaborate with a number of artists in producing installations, performances and collective interventions all across the city, including a “thoughtful” installation by Nina Preisendorfer and Brian Zimmerman (pictured above), a provocative sculptural intervention by Claire Zitzow titled And Forth (or until one falls), Art(ist) in Context II, a series of activist performances and installations of five artists spearheaded byAgitpropVirtual Cities and Utopian Visions at the San Diego Museum of Art, Building: San Diego at the Woodbury School of Architecture, and others.

Fine Military Detritus next to General Dynamics Nassco (courtesy of The Periscope Project)

Together, in my mind, these happenings and displays serve as coordinated attacks on San Diego’s otherwise conservative aesthetic — and all by artists who are currently locally based. They serve as high profile examples of a critical resurgence that has been brewing in the artist communities of this highly charged border metropolis for some years.

It is hard to tell if anything sticks here, but, while creating a different set of problems, the institutional embrace (not just from the art fair, but also the San Diego Museum of Art’s Salon Series and others) of critical practices that would have likely been shunned just a few years ago seems to provide some evidence that things are moving in the right direction. On the other hand, as long as Darrell Issa is in Congress and this guy has a shot at mayor, there is still work to be done.

Adaptable Sites previews August 31 (6 – 10 pm), public reception Sept 3 (6 – 10), and is open for viewing all the dates of the Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair, September 1 – 4 (12 – 4 pm).

Benjamin A. Snyder is a freelance writer based in San Diego, California.

2 replies on “Artists Launch Offensive Against San Diego”

  1. neato. however in regards to the reputation of the area, it’s been my experience that san diego culture is growing in an interesting scene taking place in districts around the city such as north park, south park, university heights and hillcrest, although it is relatively non existent (or expensive) in the downtown area and among the older folks,

    the extreme conservative element of some certain areas (mormon, military, and republican) does serve as a as a major societal issue, but it also illuminates the opposite aspect in a growing group of people, and while i wouldn’t call the younger groups of san diegan artists purely reactionary, i do think they are managing to do cool art in spite of their environments as opposed to because of it, especially with the lack of infrastructure to nurture artists.

    1. You’re right, Mathew, SD cultural presence is growing and there are a number of artists, organizations and neighborhoods that are behind that growth. From a bird’s eye view they’re fighting an uphill battle against interests that lie elsewhere, not to mention the majority of SD County’s 3 million + residents who don’t readily pay much attention. Nonetheless this post was meant to show a few examples of how things in the area seem to be changing (for the better). Thanks for the comment – bas

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