Production stills from ART21 Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 7. © ART21, Inc. 2014.
Trevor Paglen was born in 1974 in Camp Springs, Maryland. Trained as a geographer and photographer, Paglen makes the invisible visible by documenting the American surveillance state of the 21st century. From his vantage points at various public locations he photographs distant military facilities, capturing extreme telephoto images of stealth drones. Turning his vision to the night sky, he traces the paths of information-gathering satellites. In his series of Mylar satellites, Paglen applies advanced engineering to the creation of non-functional objects, stripping technology of its intended purpose and hoping to launch his own time capsule of photographs into geostationary orbit. Tracing the ways in which the convergence of aesthetics, industrial design, and politics influence how we see and understand the world, he shows us images of the American West, originally photographed for military use and now considered examples of classic photography. In images that go beyond straightforward journalistic documentation, Paglen gives voice to shifting ideas of the landscape of the American West, humankind’s place in the cosmos, and the surveillance state.
In this preview from the ART21 Art in the Twenty-First Century Season 7 episode Secrets, Paglen describes the inspiration that he has drawn from early NASA spacecraft. Shown at work on Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 4) from a San Antonio, Texas hanger in 2013, the artist reflects upon the aesthetic and functional properties of spacecraft from the 1950s and 1960s. “A lot of artists at that time were looking at them as aesthetic objects,” says Paglen, referring to the early spacecraft. “Maybe there was a different direction. In that moment is something that I’m very much trying to understand.”