In 1963 NASA launched the first communications satellite “Syncom 2” into a geosynchronous orbit over the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, humans have slowly and methodically added to this space-based communications infrastructure. Currently, more than 800 spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit form a man-made ring of satellites around Earth at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers. Most of these spacecraft powered down long ago, yet continue to float aimlessly around the planet. Geostationary satellites are so far from earth that their orbits never decay. The dead spacecraft in orbit have become a permanent fixture around Earth, not unlike the rings of Saturn. They will be the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet’s surface.
Commissioned and presented by public art organization Creative Time, The Last Pictures is a project to mark one of these spacecraft with a record of our historical moment. For nearly five years, artist Trevor Paglen interviewed scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers to consider what such a cultural mark should be. As an artist in residence at MIT, he worked with materials scientists to develop an ultra-archival disc of images, capable of lasting in space for billions of years.
In September 2012, the television satellite EchoStar XVI will lift off from Kazakhstan with the disc attached to its anti-earth deck, enter a geostationary orbit, and proceed to broadcast over ten trillion images over its fifteen-year lifetime. When it nears the end of its useful life, EchoStar XVI will use the last of its fuel to enter a slightly higher “graveyard orbit,” where it will power down and die. While EchoStar XVI’s broadcast images are destined to be as fleeting as the light-speed radio waves they travel on, The Last Pictures will continue to slowly circle Earth until the Earth itself is no more.
Soyuz Fg Rocket Launch, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Typhoon, Japan, Early Twentieth Century
Greek and Armenian Orphan Refugees Experience the Sea for the First Time, Marathon, Greece
Old Operating Theater, St. Thomas Church, Southwark, London
Glimpses of America, American National Exhibition, Moscow World’s Fair
Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Migrants Seen by Predator Drone, U.S.-Mexico Border
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 series of artist talks 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 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 Fall 2012.
LECTURE TOUR SCHEDULE:
September 19, 2012 - New York Public Library / Bryant Park, New York, NY
October 9, 2012 - Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA
October 11, 2012 - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco, CA
October 17, 2012 - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
October 22, 2012 - Goethe Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands
October 28, 2012 - ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
October 29, 2012 - Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, Slovenia
October 31, 2012 - SALT, Istanbul, Turkey
November 1, 2012 - Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Netherlands
November 7, 2012 - MIT List Visual Art Center, Cambridge, MA
Trevor Paglen’s work blurs disciplinary and formal borders to construct unfamiliar ways to see and interpret the world around us.
Paglen’s visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and at numerous other solo and group exhibitions.
He is the author of five books and numerous articles on subjects such as future warfare, state secrecy, experimental geography, anthropogeomorphology, deep-time, and cave art. He spends more time thinking about modernist painting than he would like to admit.
Paglen holds a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley.
Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York.
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The Last Pictures was made possible through the visionary support of Lawrence B. Benenson, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, EchoStar Corporation, Epner Technology, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts.