SEVERE CLEAR part 1:  Existence or Nonexistence,  2014

Severe Clear was a two-part public performance that took place in the skies over New York. The project borrows its title from an aviation term for unrestricted visibility, used by pilots to denote ideal flying — and bombing — conditions.

For this first performance on Memorial Day, the words EXISTENCE OR NONEXISTENCE were written in white smoke above the Manhattan skyline. The phrase was excerpted from a letter sent by the Central Intelligence Agency to the American Civil Liberties Union rejecting their Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the U.S. government’s classified drone program. The full reply read, ‘…the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request.’ Within minutes of the performance, images were posted to social media from people across the city; and a week later, the CIA joined Twitter with its maiden message: ‘We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.’

Skywriting was developed by British air force pilots during the First World War as a way of communicating signals over long distances. Traumatic associations connect the skies above Waziristan, where children are often afraid to play on cloudless days because of the visibility they afford remotely piloted aircraft, with the crystalline skies across New York on the morning of September 11th, 2001, when hijacked passenger planes appeared, literally, from out of the blue.

   Skywriting over New York City, Memorial Day weekend, 2014


Skywriting over New York City, Memorial Day weekend, 2014


Letter from the CIA to the ACLU, 9 March 2010

ACLU and CIA tweets, 2014

Thanks to a/political for their support: