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Trevor Paglen: The Last Pictures

The Artist Reveals the Final Earthly Moments of his Cosmic Latest Work

American artist and “experimental geographer” Trevor Paglen travels to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to document the launch of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI in today’s special reportage. Unlike the 1000s of other craft pointed towards the stars, this one harbored a message for the distant future in the form of an innocuous capsule bolted to its exterior and containing the multi-disciplinary creator’s latest work, The Last Pictures. Commissioned by New York's Creative Time, the object contains a silicon wafer micro-etched with 100 archival black-and-white images, selected as photographic documents of recent human history. "Images do not make arguments the same way a scientific paper makes an argument,” Paglen says of his choice of medium. “The way they communicate is much more impressionistic and affective, and by playing with those relationships I was able let the images do what they want to do.” The disc is encased in a gold-plated aluminum cover with further imprints on its surface that maps when—not where—it comes from. “The project is more about going into time than into space,” explains its architect. The satellite now appears in the night sky as a fixed, manmade glowing sphere, joining Earth’s orbital rings for the rest of time. An ironic wink at extra-terrestrial beings who may one day come across it, the archive functions as a cave painting in space, a prescient epitaph for an extinct civilization, or as Paglen puts it, "a silent film for the future". 

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  • TODAY'S EXTRA
    TODAY'S EXTRA

    Twenty-Four Thousand Miles Above the Earth

    A Look Inside Trevor Paglen’s Archive for the Distant Future

    A battery hen farm, a cat piano, cloned cattle and bean fields provide uncommon examples of life on earth in the multidisciplinary artist, writer and researcher Trevor Paglen’s time capsule project, The Last Pictures. Selected from among the 100 that were micro-etched onto a small silicone disc fabricated in collaboration with MIT scientists, these photographs were launched into space from a Kazakhstan cosmodrome earlier this month. Amid general categories such as agriculture and industry, aesthetic themes emerge as Paglen taps into our innate ability to draw connections and make sequences. The resultant archive, along with its host, the geostationary satellite EchoStar XVI, will orbit the Earth for billions of years. 

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family: The Park

    Viewer Becomes Voyeur in the Love-Struck Parisian Pop Outfit’s Latest Video

    A series of windows invites the viewer into the private lives of imagined city dwellers in this poignant video premiere from Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family. Co-directed by French filmmaker Arnaud Delord and photographer Vincent Ferrané, the piece takes the intriguing, moonlit skyline as the backdrop to “The Park”, a single from the Parisian act’s new Fireman EP and the first release from the seven-strong troupe since their 2008 debut album, Good Children Go To Heaven. “We wanted to plunge the spectator into an ambiance that was at once nocturnal, urban and melancholic,” explain Delord and Ferrané, who chose a palette of muted blues and pinks for the apartments. The framed vignettes exposing the characters' hidden lives were shot in the studio and spliced with composite photographs of urban scenes and building facades—influenced by the atmospheric cityscapes of 1980s Brian de Palma films—using 3D software. As Tahiti Boy frontman David Sztanke’s romantic vocals form a warming melody with oscillating synths, heartfelt strings and shuffling drums, the camera floats from apartment to apartment to reveal a series of unexpected characters. “The protagonists are alone in their homes, somewhere between a dream state and a habitual one, occupied by the ‘little nothings’ that make up everyday life,” say the directors. As the song enters its final chorus, a fireworks display explodes outside, bringing residents together for the spectacle. 

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