Air Rights: an exhibit by Drone Research Lab

At the "Air Rights" exhibition. Photo by Mark Gjukich, courtesy Taubman College of Architecture and Urban PlanningThe printed catalog for “Air Rights” – an exhibition by the Drone Research Lab (DRL) at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning – begins with a Bartlett‘s-worthy quote from R. Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” It is often observed, on the contrary, that unmanned aerial vehicles, unlike the billion-dollar state-of-the-art fighter jets they are replacing in some military applications, are a cobbling together of existing technologies. None of their components (aside from advanced optical sensing) is inaccessible to everyday consumers, and the mechanics would likely be familiar to Fuller himself.

There is a bit of a misalignment, therefore, between Fuller’s technocratic futurism and the often improvised aerial robots at issue here. This contradiction is highlighted in the foreword provided for the catalog by Evan Roth of the Graffiti Research Lab, which emphasizes the process of technological misuse and civil disobedience of taggers and hackers. Misuse and disobedience are certainly a strong ingredient in some of the works in this exhibit, and are in evidence in the activities of the DRL during their first few months as a going concern. The exhibit seems to argue that the site of misbehavior and appropriation is shifting from the tagged surfaces of graffiti to aberrant spatial practices of collection and documentation. As the exhibit’s name implies, the space above or adjacent to buildings – a valuable property in some cites – can and should be politically contentious, a space in which to assert one’s rights.

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