Creative Time

Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures is going into outer space this fall

August 7th, 2012

Twenty-four thousand miles above our heads, a ring of man-made satellites circle the Earth, transmitting our television signals, routing our telephone calls, and processing our credit card transactions. Amidst these myriad spacecraft, an artwork will be mounted to the hull of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI, scheduled to launch into outer space in September 2012. This artwork, titled The Last Pictures, was conceived by artist Trevor Paglen and designed in collaboration with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and consists of a golden disc destined to orbit the Earth in virtual perpetuity.

The Last Pictures is rooted in the premise that the communications satellites orbiting the earth will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. Inspired in part by ancient cave paintings, nuclear waste warning signs, and Carl Sagan’s Golden Records of the 1970s, Paglen has developed a collection of one hundred images etched into a gold-encased, silicon disc and sent into orbit as both a time capsule and a message to the future. The selection of images is influenced by four years of interviews with leading scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, and artists about the contradictions that characterize contemporary civilizations. Consequently, The Last Pictures engages some of the most profound questions of the human experience, provoking discourse about communication, deep time, and the economic, environmental, and social uncertainties that define our historical moment.

While the satellite-mounted artifact of The Last Pictures awaits deciphering by future civilizations, the project will be shared with audiences on Earth via a display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, planned for fall 2012. Paglen and Creative Time will also present a series of artist talks, a website, and an accompanying book co-published by University of California Press and Creative Time Books.

In partnership with The New York Public Library’s LIVE from the NYPL program, Paglen and Creative Time will present an evening of performances and conversations with leading scientists and philosophers to debut the project in New York City’s Bryant Park, coinciding with the EchoStar XVI satellite launch in September 2012.