artist / participant
We have always contemplated the night sky with awe, envisioning ties to mythic pasts or space-bound futures. The night sky of the present is pregnant with these associations. At the same time, it cloaks in plain sight constellations of technology employed by the United States government’s “black world” of covert military and intelligence activities. Trevor Paglen, trained as both an artist and a geographer, deploys an array of tactics—from data analysis and on-the-ground exploration to long-distance photography and astronomy—to map this shadowy world of secret bases, unspecified budget allocations, stealth planes, assumed identities, and secret satellites on land and in the heavens.
For his MATRIX project, Paglen works with data compiled by amateur astronomers and hobbyist “satellite observers,” cross-referenced through his own research, to track and present what he calls “the other night sky.” In the vastness of the cosmos, this physical manifestation of the black world hides in plain sight, visible even with the naked eye. He photographs barely perceptible traces of these vessels amidst familiar star fields, inserting a layer of human intervention into familiar visualizations of the cosmos.
The multimedia installation at the center of the exhibition The Other Night Sky gestures toward the popular presentation of scientific knowledge in space centers and natural history museums by offering a large-scale globe animated with 189 currently orbiting satellites. But the evidentiary function of the work is thwarted; although photographs are named for depicted satellites, faint streaks verify their existence, and the projections track their real-time movements, there is no information to glean from the images about the satellites themselves or their particular roles. And so he points us to the physical manifestations of the black world, while the images themselves embody the impossibility of translating such an act of seeing into an act of understanding. With this project, Paglen looks upwards to the night sky, one of the oldest laboratories of rational thought, in order to visualize and document certain facts, looking for answers about truth, secrecy, and democr acy in the present moment. The Other Night Sky is Paglen’s first solo museum exhibition.
Artist talk and reception with Trevor Paglen and Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator Elizabeth Thomas Sunday, June 1, 3 p.m.
Trevor Paglen’s MATRIX opening kicks off Berkeley Big Bang 08, a three-day symposium and festival of new media and art (bampfa.berkeley.edu/bigbang) organized by BAM/PFA and the Berkeley Center for New Media to coincide with 01SJ: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge in San Jose (01sj.org).
Support: Produced with the support of Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, New York. The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis. Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Joachim and Nancy Bechtle, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Noel and Penny Nellis, Roselyne C. Swig, Paul L. Wattis III, Paul Rickert, Iris Shimada, and Jane and Jeff Green.
Trevor Paglen: The Other Night Sky
Kurator: Elizabeth Thomas