Trevor Paglen

trevor paglen

"When we look up into the starry night sky, we tend to see reflections of ourselves."
Trevor Paglen

about the work

The American artist, geographer, and author Trevor Paglen is engaged in the exploration and visualization of the so-called Black World. Using research and photographic processes, he attempts to make visible the hidden operations of U.S. intelligence agencies and the military. His work focuses on investigating invisible, covert activities such as satellites and drones or cordoned-off military installations in the deserts of the USA, which are not shown on any official map. With this investigative approach, Trevor Paglen raises awareness of phenomena that appear behind the usual perception of the natural world.

The 2008 photographic work Milstar 3 in Sagittarius is part of the ongoing series of works The other Night Sky, in which Paglen tracks and photographs the world of secret satellites that move unnoticed above our heads. Using data collected by an international network of amateur satellite observers, he can calculate the exact positioning of individual satellites. Special cameras, precision telescopes, and computer-controlled mounts used in space photography make it possible to take pictures of the satellites, which are often more than thirty thousand kilometers away. The photographic work presented in Sensing Nature shows the inactive Milstar 3 satellite in the Sagittarius starfield. Due to the enormous distance and the extremely long exposure time, the contours of the satellite are barely perceptible. Instead, they blur in a dense, colorful star nebula of haze and heat.

Nevertheless, photography documents the existence of something hidden and thus makes it an instrument of enlightenment. With the photo series The other Night Sky, Trevor Paglen directs perception to invisible technologies that significantly control and influence our lives. As a result, the night sky, a mystical place between romantic transfiguration and future utopias, becomes a projection surface for current socio-political and ecological questions. What consequences, for example, do the permanent surveillance possibilities have for Western democracies or authoritarian regimes? What ecological effects do the space industry and the military have on the global climate? Trevor Paglen‘s works do not answer these questions, but they open our eyes to the downside of our highly technological world.

curriculum vitae

Trevor Paglen (* 1974 in Maryland) is an American photographic artist, author, and political left activist. Through his work, Paglen relentlessly pursues what he calls the „invisible and undocumentable“ in contemporary society. Using a mix of photography, installation, investigative journalism, and science, Paglen explores the clandestine activities of governments and intelligence agencies, using high-end equipment to document their movements and reveal their hidden inner workings. At the same time, Paglen‘s images are also concerned with a critical, distinctly darker aesthetic of the sublime. After studying religious studies and composition at the University of California, Berkeley, and art and technology at the School of Art in Chicago, Paglen earned a Ph.D. in geography, focusing on new media in 2008. Since then, he has held a teaching position at the University of California. He has received numerous awards and participates in international solo and group exhibitions, lectures, and public projects. In 2018, his first survey exhibition, Sights Unseen, was held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., accompanied by an extensive catalog. Other solo exhibitions have taken place at the Barbican in London, Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Secession in Vienna, Berkeley Art Museum, Kunsthall Oslo, and Kunsthalle Giessen. In addition, his work has been included in group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Tate Modern, London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary
Art, Gateshead, United Kingdom, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. He participated in the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, 2012 Liverpool Biennial, 2013 ICP Triennial, New York, and the 11th Gwangju Biennial. He has received numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award for his contributions to counter-surveillance, and the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award.