Sam Durant Drone Set to Grace New York’s High Line
April 15, 2021
Sam Durant has been awarded the second High Line Plinth commission, for which the artist plans to create a nearly life-size replica of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone deployed by the United States, beginning in 1995 and increasingly during the Obama administration, to carry out targeted killings in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Lacking the craft’s typical weaponry, the spare work will possess a wingspan of forty-eight feet, just a foot shy of that of the actual drone, and will hover twenty-five feet above the Thirtieth Street juncture of the elevated park for eighteen months beginning in May.
Vistors’ apprehension of the sculpture—which Durant has said is “meant to animate the question about the use of drones, surveillance, and targeted killings in places far and near, and whether as a society we agree with and want to continue these practices”—will vary with weather conditions: The white fiberglass sculpture will at times be rendered invisible depending on light, cloud cover, and weather conditions.
“There’s been an emphasis on abstracting the plane itself to really streamline it,” Durant told the New York Times. “And the base, rather than having a solid monumental plinth, we’ve made a two-tiered stepped base so that people can sit on it and have a more interactive experience. This is a space for conversation. I was very concerned with using unmanned aircraft to essentially assassinate people. It was seen as popular in the United States because U.S. soldiers didn’t have to go to the battlefield. But what about the casualties in the countries that were attacked by our drones? The idea was to bring this conversation home to America.”
Prior to this, Durant’s last large-scale public sculpture was the controversial Scaffold, 2012, installed briefly in 2017 outside the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis. The work—a comment on capital punishment in the US that drew on a number of high-profile executions, including that of twenty-eight Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota, in 1862—elicited condemnation from the Dakota Nation, who perceived it as a symbol of their genocide. Durant responded by turning over the sculpture to the tribe, which subsequently buried it. The Walker went on to commission Angela Two Stars, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, to create a public artwork for its garden.