THE EDGE OF TOMORROW
15 x 20 cm
Price: 30 lei
As you are reading this, there is a satellite in space quietly circling Earth, its cargo a collection of 100 pictures that allow a glimpse into the state of our world today. At a distance of 36,000 kilometers, the satellite follows a geosynchronous orbit with virtually no resistance from our planet’s atmosphere. Like a man-made moon, it is designed to follow its trajectory for billions of years, long after we and our world are gone, spiraling its cargo into the depths of time.
As you are reading this, there is a sleek modernist cube installed within the Fukushima Exclusion Zone in Japan. It is composed of irradiated glass from the contaminated area melted with Trinitite, a mineral generated by the heat of the world’s first atomic bomb test in the deserts of New Mexico. The piece will only be accessible once contamination levels of the Exclusion Zone are considered safe again, anytime between 3 and 30,000 years from now.
As you are reading this, there are several Artificial Intelligence systems churning out image after image, teaching themselves the shape of things. Instead of optimizing the structures our societies and everyday lives are reliant on, they are programmed to recognize and visualize our system’s failures and wrongdoings, like machines gone rogue in senseless circles.
These three exemplary projects by American artist Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures (2012), Trinity Cube (2015), and the ongoing cycle of Invisible Images – might be as far removed from our traditional understanding of art as can be. Physically, they bear little resemblance to a painting or installation on view in a museum space; in fact, they are not even designed to necessarily be seen. Instead, they can be understood as both conclusions and catalysts, of and for thinking through complex questions and ideas.
Trevor Paglen’s practice straddles a variety of disciplines, from image-making and installations to investigative journalism, writing, engineering, geography and sound design. He has published a number of books on the functioning of the US intelligence and military services, installed a series of Autonomy Cubes in museums and galleries across the world that allow you to access the entirely anonymous Tor network, and is currently working on his own satellite to be launched into space in summer 2018, the first of its kind to not serve any commercial or military purposes.
It is pretty obvious by now that Trevor Paglen is an artist like no other among his contemporaries. Born in 1974, he holds degrees in comparative religion, music composition, and fine arts from UC Berkeley and the Art Institute of Chicago. During his career he undertook residencies at MIT and Stanford University, collaborating with scientists, engineers, and software developers to realize his projects. His studio in Berlin is filled with computer screens and technology, resembling more a hacking cell than an artist’s atelier.
Somewhat tellingly, Paglen also completed a PhD in geography, applying a similar methodology of analyzing the various factors impacting a region to his own practice. Not satisfied by merely proposing a subjective experience, Paglen diligently researches his topics in depth, analyzing the complicated web of meanings, relationships and their consequences, ultimately coalescing into an artwork that is as much a question as it is a statement.
If we accept a broader definition of art as a reflection of our times, as an ongoing investigation into the world we live in, then Paglen’s diverse output and interests have certainly found their logical home. For Paglen does not shy away from the larger questions in life with his work, exploring the human condition in the context of the political, social, military, and economic systems our societies operate on. There is a palpable and urgent desire to understand and expose the invisible mechanisms of modern life; to grasp the here and now in its full potential and dilemma; of ‘learning how to see the historical moment we live in and developing the means to imagine alternative futures,’ projecting the human experience against the vast canvas of space, technology, time.
As you are reading this, there is a satellite in space quietly circling Earth.