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Trevor Paglen's Sites Unseen at The SAAM

  • Trevor Paglen - Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite
  • Trevor Paglen - Trinity Cube
June 21, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The way we perceive our freedom is largely changing with the application of various policies in both the physical and virtual space. Aside from conspiracy theories, we are constantly challenged to question if we are actually free and who has the right to control our lives.

A variety of social and even art projects deal with this subject, it is just the matter of media and the forms of expression. For instance, by capturing outstanding landscapes centered around the surveillance technology (a spy satellite, a drone, military installation, etc.), American photographer Trevor Paglen articulates the very notion of freedom and privacy in the contemporary moment.

With the upcoming exhibition titled Sites Unseen at The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the artist will once again emphasize the landscape of secrecy in order to intervene in the public discourse around this alarming subject matter.

Trevor Paglen - Shoshone Falls, Hough Transform
Trevor Paglen – Shoshone Falls, Hough Transform; Haar, 2017, Silver gelatin print. Collection of Rory and John Maxon Ackerly. Image courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco. © Trevor Paglen

The Landscapes of Surveillance by Trevor Paglen

The politically charged artistic practice of Trevor Paglen is framed by an ongoing interest in potentialities of a landscape as a specific genre, as well as the domains of data collection and digital warfare. Besides being an artist, he is a geographer and investigative journalist.

A variety of his projects were released in collaboration with human rights activists and scientists. The works of Paglen are included in various collections across the States, and he also published several books and articles on subjects ranging from state secrecy, military symbology, experimental geography, and photography.

The statement which Paglen once gave tells much about his agenda:

Rather than trying to find out what’s actually going on behind closed doors I’m trying to take a long hard look at the door itself.

Trevor Paglen - They Watch the Moon
Trevor Paglen – They Watch the Moon, 2010. C-print. Collection of Cynthia and Armins Rusis. Image courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco. © Trevor Paglen

About the Sites Unseen Installment

John Jacob, the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has curated the exhibition by contrasting early photographic of Trevor Paglen with the latest series focused on artificial intelligence.

Namely, the selection of more than one hundred works will be located at the north wing of galleries at the museum and will represent the artists’ ongoing interest in the strategies of surveillance.

The multimedia installation The Last Pictures, the video piece Image Operations, as well as prototypes of his non-functional satellites will be also featured in the installment.

Trevor Paglen - Dead Satellite with Nuclear Reactor, Eastern Arizona
Trevor Paglen – Dead Satellite with Nuclear Reactor, Eastern Arizona (Cosmos 469), 2011. C-print. Smithsonian American Art Museum; Gift of Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan. Image courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco. © 2011, Trevor Paglen. Photo by Gene Young

Trevor Paglen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

This peculiar exhibition offers a new perspective on Trevor Paglen’s artistic practice and tends to reveal new layers of his continuous exploration of the surveillance technology. What makes his works so cynical and at the same time romantic is the fact that the artist does not intend to reveal secrets, rather he wants to show the size of the highly sophisticated and well-organized mechanism which controls the human population.

Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen will open on 21 June 2018 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and will last until 6 June 2019.

In addition to the mediation with the audience, an extensive following program is being prepared, and an artist talk by Paglen is already scheduled for 20 June 2018. The exhibition will travel to other institutions in the United States and Europe.

Featured images: Trevor Paglen – Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 4), 2013, Mixed media. View of an installation test at a hangar in Nevada. Courtesy of the artist; Metro Pictures, New York; Altman Siegel, San Francisco. Image courtesy of the artist and Nevada Museum of Art. © Trevor Paglen; Trinity Cube, 2016. Irradiated glass from the Fukushima Exclusion Zone and Trinitite. Installation view at Fukushima Exclusion Zone, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. © Trevor Paglen, photo by Kenji Morita. All images courtesy the Smithsonian American Art Museum.