Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Trevor Paglen Finds Our Blank Spots

. . . Paglen exposes the structure of a network of sites and
routes that we are not intended to see. In this sense, his work
as an artist-geographer might best be understood as
producing a subversive cartography of the invisible.
~ Lyra Liberty Kilston on Trevor Paglen in Modern Painters 

New York-based Trevor Paglen, Ph.D., has been called "a geographer by training, a conspiracy theorist by instinct and an investigative reporter by avocation."* He is an artist who also specializes in deciphering and documenting "hidden worlds" inside the United States government and military. He collaborates with amateur astronomers, MIT engineers, trackers of reconnaissance satellites, journalists, and researchers and experts in an array of other disciplines, and has received grants and other awards from the Smithsonian Institution, the LUMA Foundation, Aperture Foundation, and other organizations in and outside the arts.

Creating compelling artwork from photographs, video, orbital and other data, and a variety of rather uncommon source materials (for example, testimonies, code names, signatures of non-existent people created by the CIA, flight data, and passports), he has exhibited all around the world at important museums. Earlier this year he was part of the Walker Art Center's show "Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870"; currently, he is one of the artists exhibiting in "After the Gold Rush" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, on view through January 2, 2012; he also is part of the Walker's "Graphic Design: Now in Production", which opened October 22 and continues through January 22 (it will travel to Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum next summer).

The author of Blank Spots On the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (2010), the monograph Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes (2010), I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed By Me: Emblems from the Pentagon's Black World (2010), and Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights (2006), Paglen is artist-in-residence for 2011-2012 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His residency at MIT involves researching "ultra-archival" materials and aerospace design and working with faculty, students, and researchers in engineering, materials science, and message encoding. Most recently, as part of his MIT residency, he gave a lecture in Cambridge, Massachusetts, titled "The Other Night Sky: Destiny, Warfare, and Ruins Among the Stars".

Paglen has published his photographic work and writings on state secrecy, covert networks, democracy, and use of photography as truth-telling not only in Modern PaintersAperture, and ArtForum but also in The New York TimesNewsweek, and other leading magazines and periodicals. His blog, though not updated regularly, offers up some fascinating "odds 'n ends", such as his musings on the symbolism of insignia and patches created to commemorate launches of spacecraft or other significant events. (See Paglen's series Symbology, one of his ongoing visual arts projects. His books, articles, and essays are listed here. A related post from the Walker Art Center blog is noted below.)

Named by Art Review a "Future Great", Paglen holds a doctorate in geography from the University of California/Berkeley and a masters in fine art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The video below documents an "Authors at Google" talk Paglen gave in February 2009 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. Just under an hour long, it's a revealing discussion about Paglen's investigations into "the secret part of government" and what he does with what he finds. Fascinating stuff!

* Quoted in Holland Cotter, "Art in Review; Trevor Paglen", The New York Times, December 15, 2006

Of Interest

The Influencers: Trevor Paglen

"GD:NIP #2: Trevor Paglen: Symbology", Walker Art Center Blog, October 24, 2011

William J. Broad, "Inside the Black Budget", The New York Times, April 1, 2008

Chris Smith, "Strange Renderings: The Secret Geographies of Trevor Paglen" in California, Spring 2010 (California is the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association, UC/Berkeley.)

Melville House Publishing, Author Page


Louise Gallagher said...

I made the mistake of starting to watch the video -- which is a mistake only because of the time and now I'm late!!!

Absolutely fascinating.

I'll be back to finish later.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Wow----secret geographies!!!

I am noticing lots of artists working with surveillance images. I find that fascinating and revealing.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Fascinating stuff!