on Trevor Paglen at the Secession

In his exhibition at the Secession, Trevor Paglen shows stunning images from several ongoing bodies of work.  Though the show is predominantly photography, Paglen says he is interested in photography only as a means to explore the farthest boundaries of human optics; his pursuit concerns aesthetics yet veers towards epistemological inquiry.  With extensive research, invention, and a slow continuous practice Paglen is recording secrets, making unknown truths visible.

It takes Paglen sometimes up to five years to complete a unique image.  Laboriously carrying cameras, telescopes and astronomy equipment into mountainous or desert terrain, Paglen locates his subjects as far as 30 miles away and doing so is able to make photographs of secret US military bases, hangers, drone assassination aircrafts, and even the workers commuting in planes to these secret locations.   One such image is ‘They Watch the Moon,’ in which Paglen shoots an installation of giant satellite dishes sitting atop mountains in the middle of a massive radio frequency quiet zone located in West Virginia.  Paglen knows that these espionage satellite dishes are used by the military to pickup something called moonbounce, which apparently is the reflection of sound waves that literally bounce off the moon’s surface and travel back toward earth.  While he shoots such provocative images, Paglen’s attitude is that of simply collecting and preserving evidence and pointing out limits.  Knowingly though, the photographs are in fact just photographs and the said evidence is not always obvious.

With his specially designed photographic structures, Paglen maneuvers his camera machines to counteract the earth’s rotation in order to maintain long exposures capturing both distinct stars and trails of secret orbiting satellites.   In a photograph of the planet Jupiter and its moons, Paglen makes a direct reference to Galileo Galilei, whose discoveries about Jupiter led to his claims against the fundamental concepts of the universe.  The adjoining photograph is a nighttime image of a person in an office working in the US National Reconnaissance Office.  In another, a large image of a blue cloudy sky with two minuscule aircraft details, which are robot airplanes (with names like Reaper Drone and Predator Drone).  In a video Paglen projects feed that was hacked off of satellite communications between stationary military pilots and drone airplanes in the sky.  The video is the pilot’s view on the screen while remotely flying the drone plane through target practice somewhere over Eastern Europe.  These things are unsettling, that is absolute, but Paglen says it is not about explaining the secret things; he just helps us to see them.

Secession, Friedrichstraße 12, A-1010 Wien

26. 11. 2010 – 13. 2. 2011

– Ezara Spangl

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