Impossible Objects offers multiple takes on the history of spaceflight, from the utopian visions of late 19th Century Russian “Cosmists,” to present-day military and surveillance apparatuses. In his investigation of the role images play in structuring geography and power, Paglen draws attention to our surrounding landscape, offering a reconsideration of our fraught relationship to the environment and technology.
In collaboration with a team of aerospace engineers and the Nevada Museum of Art, Paglen developed Orbital Reflector, a 100-foot, diamond-shaped Mylar sculpture that will launch into orbit this summer. Visible to the unaided eye from earth and orbiting the planet every 92 minutes, the sculpture is meant as a purely aesthetic gesture–a counterpoint to every other satellite ever deployed. Casting orbital space as “public space” for art, Paglen’s satellite imagines an alternative future where aerospace engineering is decoupled from a history of surveillance and warfare. For Impossible Objects, Paglen exhibits models of Orbital Reflector, suspending the satellite’s prototypes from the ceiling and showing the various shapes, sizes and materials he explored in realizing the artwork.
The photographs included in Impossible Objects are a continuation of Paglen’s The Other Night Sky, a photographic body of work depicting covert American satellites and other unidentified objects currently in orbit. Using telescopes and large-format cameras, Paglen makes visible the unseen, revealing space in vivid detail both visually and politically. In some cases, the photograph’s light has been inverted, mirroring the techniques by which astronomers study the cosmos. Also included in the exhibition is a selection of works on paper. These sketches of satellite designs chart the evolution of Orbital Reflector and the varying shapes and structural concerns Paglen considered in developing the project. The drawings offer not only a tangible introduction to the artist’s research, but are formally-engaging geometric renderings, echoing the cosmic imaginings of Kazimir Malevich and other Russian avant-gardists’ emphasis on feeling over representation.
On March 16, Trevor Paglen will lecture at Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco, as part of CCA’s Larry Sultan Visiting Artist Program. His midcareer retrospective, Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen, opens this summer at the Smithsonian American Art Museum before traveling to the MCA San Diego and the Kunsthalle Wien, Austria. Additionally, he will have a solo exhibition at the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, opening this summer. He’s currently included in Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today
at the ICA Boston curated by Eva Respini.
Trevor Paglen has exhibited in numerous international museums, galleries and institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; Whitechapel Gallery, London; The Barbican Centre, London; Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Austria; Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm; The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo; ZKM, Karlsruhe; Kunstverein Hannover; Kunsthalle Winterthur; Frankfurter Kunstverein; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The MCA Chicago as well as the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the 2009 Istanbul Biennial; the 2012 Liverpool Biennial; the 2016 Venice Biennial of Architecture; the 9th Berlin Biennial; Manifesta: The European Biennial of Contemporary Art 2016, Zurich and The 2016 Gwangju Biennale. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Artforum, Frieze, The Atlantic, Bomb, October, Wired and The New Inquiry in addition to many other publications. Paglen has received grants and awards from the Smithsonian, Art Matters, Artadia, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the LUMA foundation, the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, and the Aperture Foundation. He was recently named a 2017 MacArthur Fellow. He holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, an M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from U.C. Berkeley.
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