DONT FEAR THE REAPER… Artist Annabel McCourt’s REMOTE opens inside the gallery at Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. This time the Lincolnshire-based artist known for work that challenges and interrogates contemporary issues, has her sights set on the instruments and psychology behind 21st Century warfare.
A replica of a Reaper Control Station dominates the gallery space. Imposing and ominous, demanding of your attention, the aluminium structure has been authentically fabricated down to the last bolt and painted in Desert Storm shade: so exacting is the build that it wouldn’t look out of place on an air force base.
Running the length of one wall is the retro-fitted illuminated name sign spelling T H E A T R E. It was rescued by the artist from Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Its presence is incongruous, casting a red hue into the gallery of onlookers, until you work out this is more of McCourt’s penchant for wordplay.
Eighty miles away along the the North East Coast a maquette of the larger model can be found inside Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum. The Reaper maquette is the first link in a chain of interactive installation elements that exist in the real world and in virtual space. “I grew up in rural Lincolnshire to the soundtrack a A-10 Tank Buster gunfire at RAF Donna Nook bombing range,” says artist Annabel McCourt,”From the cold war to current conflict Lincolnshire has provided a platform for intervention.”
To understand REMOTE it helps to imagine it as a timeline of events or scenarios which begin in Scarborough with the mini reaper control station. The work then shifts inside a digital game commissioned by Annabel McCourt and designed/developed by Dale Wells and BetaJester. The game played via iPads adapted for REMOTE invites the user to play as a drone operator, dropping bombs on an arcade-style scrolling city below. Players move quickly through the game destroying targets, game progress is displayed as collateral damage and lives lost. Through repeated play there is a growing awareness that this is far from a carefully controlled precision bombing exercise: the battleground appears uncomfortably close to home.
“McCourt’s work is fresh and of the minute as much as it is an interrogation of humanity’s age-old collective struggle between morality and power, right and good and evil. Simon Hedges Head of Curation, Collections and Exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust.
Now faced with the replica Drone Control Station viewers enter a world of Augmented Reality. The steel structure has a series of QR Codes that deliver different audio visual experiences that feature underwater scenes and a repeated lifejacket motif. The footage appears as if projected on four sides of the disquieting, windowless, metal mobile unit: chunky double wheels aircraft style enhance the structure, suggesting weight and functionality, while reinforcing the notion of the whole thing being akin to a giant Meccano set. There is a door with an inviting vulcanised lever handle that, for the moment, remains securely locked.
From here the visitor must use their imagination combined with what they already know about the way conflicts are portrayed in the media: how they inevitably become lost within an increasingly crowded market place; with every conceivable kind of online content each simultaneously vying for our attention. The repeated, nebulous aerial footage of explosions, broadcast to convince those back home to keep fuelling the war effort, followed by the news reports of exodus and rising death tolls, as civilian families flee their homes.
Now consider how through the perhaps reasonable demand to reduce military losses – less boots on the ground – drone technology has enabled operators to wage war via a screen, insulated from the harsh reality, thousands of miles away in a control centre.
“In my new exhibition, rules of engagement, gaming culture, fake news and technology collide with our preconceptions, our imagination and ultimately our moral code. The aim is for it to spark debate.” Annabel McCourt
As with the previous works from the Suffering Arcadia series, Electric Fence, MAGA Grabber and Happy Hour in the Harmful Factory, McCourt is once again demanding far more than a passive response from visitors to REMOTE.
REMOTE by Annabel McCourt runs across both Hull and Scarborough locations from Friday 6 March until Sunday 31 May. Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm
REMOTE was sponsored by St Hugh’s Foundation for The Arts (Annabel was recipient of St Hugh’s Main Award 2018) REMOTE received additional funding from Hull City Arts Unit. The Reaper Station, AR (Augmented Reality) and REMOTE game was made possible by the technical expertise of STRATA Group, HOTA (Humberside Offshore Training), BetaJester and supported by Scarborough Museums Trust and the University of Hull.
Learn more about REMOTE https://www.annabelmccourt.com/remote
Preview Images courtesy of Anna Bean https://www.bluebeany.com/