On view from May 12 to July 22 in New York, artist Trevor Paglen opens his first solo presentation with Pace in New York with a selection of new photography, sculpture, video, and other work, in a thematic presentation that examines the enduring effects of military and CIA influence operations on American culture. The show serves as the conceptual nucleus of a multifaceted project by the artist that also includes a Web3 project, set to be released by Art Blocks x Pace Verso on April 5, and related “speculative reality work” launching this spring.
Paglen, whose rigorous practice spans photography, sculpture, video, and installation, is known for his investigations of invisible phenomena and forces, including technological, scientific, socio-political, and historical subjects. Through his work, Paglen has explored artificial intelligence, surveillance, data collection, and militarism in America, meditating on the ways these issues influence modes of perceiving and relating to the natural world, from the landscapes of the American West to the cosmological realms beyond the Earth. This new show continues this mode, collecting a range of works that delves into notions of subjectivity, deception and information through a selection of photos of unidentified objects in orbit around the planet. In his methodical and highly technical process for creating these images, Paglen uses specialized software and hardware to locate and photograph objects in the sky. Atmospheric and mysterious, the resulting skyscapes show the light trails of “unids,” drawing out the abstracted, textural qualities of the cosmos. The look of the artist’s photographs is inspired by the work of 19th century artist Gustave Doré, especially his etchings of Paradise Lost.
Paglen’s presentation will also feature two large-scale sculptures that reflect his longstanding engagement with deception operations. One of the artist’s new sculptures on view in the show is inspired by the “challenge coin” used by the US army’s Military Information Support Operations (MISO) command, previously known as PSYOP. This circular, wall-mounted work—composed of steel, bullets, resin, and other materials—depicts a haunting skull at its center surrounded by a Latin translation of a slogan widely used in PSYOP units: “You’ve just been fucked by PSYOPS. Because physical wounds heal.” A second message for viewers to decode on their own is inscribed along an outer ring of the sculpture. This work aligns with Paglen’s interest in the ways that psychological influence operations developed by the US military are utilized in advertising, political campaigns, social media, and artificial intelligence.
The second sculpture in the show is inspired by a class of objects developed by the CIA and US military to conduct unusual surveillance operations in foreign airspace. The shapes of these so-called “palladium” objects echo those of the many UAPs sighted and reported in the last few years. Bearing radar signatures completely different from their physical forms to spoof other countries’ surveillance systems, these objects have been used by the CIA and military to collect electronic signals from foreign radar and surface-to-air missile systems to learn about their frequencies and capabilities. Paglen’s mirror-reflective, freestanding sculpture takes its dynamic, abstract shape from an airborne radar reflector patent dating to 1945.
Throughout, Paglen’s work continues a mode of practice that simultaneously produces images around these flows of data, both real and imagined, while also delving into the notion of work as an exposure and investigation of how data can both deceive and inform.
The show closes July 22nd.
– D. Creahan
Trevor Paglen [Pace Gallery]