The Snowden revelations and a male-dominated art and tech community were reasons enough for artist Addie Wagenknecht to form the all-female collective Deep Lab in November 2014, but issues of anonymity, privacy, and surveillance had been on her mind for several years before the NSA leaks.
This interest came out of taking notice of the infrastructure of surveillance. The first instance of this was a growing awareness of the prevalence of CCTV cameras around New York City around 2007 and 2008; she began mapping camera locations and finding routes between them. Since then, she has been making work about the number of ways this infrastructure takes shape.
Drone paintings exemplify this practice, as Wagenknecht makes visible the traces of machines that have a tendency to fly above our radar. While she developed the process of drone paintings and has been making paintings with this method since 2007—with pieces including Foundation Mathematics as Concept Art, (2015); Everything and Nothing was Beautiful (2014); and the series Black Hawk Paint (2008)—for this iteration, she employed the practice as a collaborative live performance for the first time. This was realized with fellow Deep Lab members Lindsay Howard and Maddy Varner, with technical contributions from NEW INC member Dan Moore and Becky Stern of Adafruit, and supported by 3D Robotics.
Permission to Fail is a live performance that appropriates drones as a mechanically assisted form of action painting. Drones are employed as a metaphor for the failures of technology. While manipulating canvases with loose powder pigment, the artists intentionally crash and destroy the drones through repetition. As the drones fly across a vinyl canvas, a projection flashes phrases that serve to contextualize these actions, including one of Deep Lab's internal mantras: We Are Already Enough. The beauty of the powder and artifact of the drone's destruction are all that remain as the artists disperse from the stage
In preparation for the performance, Wagenknecht, Moore, and Stern experimented with different techniques for distributing the paint with a drone. Stern’s Adafruit tutorial for a Quadcopter Spray Can Mod (for sanctioned UAV painting) outlines one of these experiments, with materials needed and observations about how you can build versions of the copter. You can see the overview in its entirety here. Use this guide on your own property only. We do not endorse the use of this technology for any illegal painting.
The performance culminated with an installation at the New Museum Store window, with documentation of the performance, drones, and portions of the painting from the performance on display and for sale.
Permission to Fail is emblematic of Deep Lab’s mission, as Wagenknecht brought together women to collaboratively experiment and add to discourse on their own terms: “Forming the group enabled me to surround myself with women who I so deeply respected and who are doing such profound things. I wanted to listen and absorb their histories and knowledge to become something better. I felt that by bringing us together, we could be stronger as a pack than we are alone. I wanted to bring together experts in a broad range of fields, including collectors, artist, researchers, academics, and security experts. Deep Lab is just getting started. It is a bigger movement than just us.”