Operation Empathy

Nancy Buchanan

Medium: Video
Issues: Drone Footage and Surveillance


Operation Empathy is a silent video simulating the experience of a drone following a passenger vehicle. Especially for US citizens, this notion would seem to be completely unimaginable. Yet, our country, in the guise of fighting terrorism, has killed hundreds of innocent civilians on their way to weddings, civilian meetings, etc. This video was originally part of a durational performance ‘It’s Your Party’ that examined the phenomenon of targeted killings in Middle Eastern countries. ‘It’s Your Party’ was an immersive meditation about the people and places that US drones are bombing in the Middle East. I organized this as a collaboration with Arshia Haq, Stephanie Allespach, Amy Alexander, and Marjan Vayghan. Presented at UC Irvine on Nov. 3, 2016, the two-hour event surrounded the audience with sound (mixed by Arshia Haq), while they were free to wander and explore video, both projected and on monitors, consume tea and have conversations largely drawn from news about the wars. Excerpts from my year long research of our country’s drone warfare were printed on origami papers folded into cranes or planes and given to guests, invited to write pre-addressed postcards to elected officials.

Drone footage shot by Brad Hughes, Emergent Media & Design, Schools of Biological Sciences, Arts and Education, University of California, Irvine.


Nancy Buchanan has made politically inflected work since the early 1970s. She uses various media to bring social realities into view in her artwork, while grounded in the observation of a lived history. Known for her durational performances in the 1970s and 80s, she also worked in video while completing drawings and installation. She has been involved in numerous artists’ groups including The Los Angeles Woman’s Building and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE); she has also acted as curator for several exhibitions and projects. Her work has been seen domestically and internationally and she is the recipient of four National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist grants, a COLA grant, and a Rockefeller Fellowship in New Media, which enabled her to complete ‘Developing: The Idea of Home’, an interactive CD-ROM, in 1999. Her work has been shown in exhibitions at MOMA, MOCA, the Centre Pompidou, the Getty Research Institute, and was included in four of the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time exhibitions; in 2013 she had a solo screening of her videotapes at REDCAT.  Buchanan taught in the Film/School at CalArts from 1988-2012; she worked with community activist Michael Zinzun on his cable access show ‘Message to the Grassroots’ for ten years and as a member of Zinzun’s LA 435 Committee, she traveled to Namibia to produce a documentary about that country’s transition to independence from the Republic of South Africa. Buchanan lives and works in Los Angeles.