Tag Archives: Relics

The Last Pictures Travel to Space by Trevor Paglen

Later this year, a communications satellite called the EchoStar XVI will be launched from Kazakhstan. The 14,500 lb. spacecraft is predicted to work for about 15 years. It will then continue to float 19,000 miles above Earth’s sea level, in a geostationary orbit that is so stable that the satellite will be there as long as there’s an Earth.

Hundreds of these dead satellites are orbiting us already, comprising what is essentially a floating junkyard that will endure well past human extinction, possibly for four billion years, when the earth is swallowed by its dying sun. What makes EchoStar XVI unique is not the unfathomable depths of time it will vault, but the fact that it will carry an art project.

Artist Trevor Paglen is fascinated by the notion that these spacecraft will be the most enduring relics of human civilization. When invited by the public art organization Creative Time to make a project about space, he proposed to somehow send up images with a satellite, and that those images would be “a story about what happened to the people who build the great ring of dead machines around Earth.” The project, The Last Pictures, rolls out in New York next week, ending a five-year journey.

Paglen micro-etched 100 photographs onto a silicon disc encased in a gold-plated shell.

Though Paglen admits that it’s unlikely that the images will ever actually be discovered by yet-unknown future aliens, he took seriously the science that would make it even remotely possible. At an artist’s residency at MIT, he worked with scientists who developed a hyper-archival, gold-plated disc, on which pictures are micro-etched. He also took seriously the question of which images should be sent up, assembling a research team and interviewing anthropologists, artists and scientists.

In the end, the EchoStar XVI will launch, bearing 100 images into the depths of time. What are they? “The images are not meant to be a grand representation of ‘mankind’ or a portrait of humanity. Instead they are a montage about a civilization that finds itself in a moment of deep uncertainty about its own future,” says Paglen.

Sourced from governmental agencies, libraries and artists (including Paglen’s own work), many of the 100 undated pictures circle around the topics of science, technology and the environment. Many suggest that the miraculous scientific and technological advances mankind has achieved—the very ones that enabled us to launch a satellite that will orbit for millennia—are the means to our end.

Other images seem spectacularly random: One picture shows gloved hands holding Leon Trotsky’s brain, while “A Study in Perspective” by Ai Wei Wei shows the dissident artist flipping the Eiffel Tower the bird. Extended captions to many of these images are available to us in a catalogue, but one wonders how the future aliens would make any sense of them. The inscrutability of these images happens to also be part of the point.

The sometimes oblique images chosen for The Last Pictures were partly inspired by the mysterious visual remnants of ancient civilizations, like the cave paintings in Lascaux, and the moai, for which Easter Island is famous. Those artifacts have never entirely yielded their meaning, and yet they were made relatively recently, in terms of the “deep time” of space. “The notion that the message could actually mean anything at all seems ridiculous…but the probability of people on Earth thinking about it here and now is guaranteed,” writes Paglen in the book that accompanies the project.

And it’s true. It seems inherently valuable, if desperately sad, for us to visualize a time when we won’t exist. The processes, with which we are making ourselves extinct, are still ongoing, after all.

The first public event for The Last Pictures, which takes place today, will feature a reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, as well as a conversation between Paglen and the famed filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose recent Cave of Forgotten Dreams was about the caves of Lascaux. The two will discuss cultural artifacts, civilization and space exploration. The event is New York City’s Bryant Park—fittingly, under the stars.

Joanna Lehan is assistant curator at the International Center of Photography, and was editor of Paglen’s book, Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, which you can see here on Lightbox.

The Last Pictures is published by Creative Time Books and the University of California Press.

Rachel Loischild

Rachel Loischild is an artist and photographer based in Boston Massachusetts. I had the pleasure of seeing her work on Estate Sales in the Flash Forward festival, and was interested to see more.  Rachel’s work speaks to what was, the poignancy of transience, the idea of personal legacy. 

She holds her MFA  in photography from Pratt Institute. Her photographs have been shown widely, including her international debut at the Jounju photo festival in Jounju Korea. As well as having her work exhibited at the Danforth Museum of Art, the Monmouth Museum and numerous fine art galleries across the country. Rachel teaches photography at both Clark University and Pine Manor College. 

I am featuring work from two series, Estate Sales, and Back in the Valley, both explore terrain that is familiar and sensory, and deal with memory and the passage of time.

Estate Sales
is an investigation of the estate sales of New England documenting the
objects and domestic spaces that remain after someone dies.

Estate Sales
becomes a collection of environmental portraits that tell a story about
individual lives, families, and an entire generation, which is quickly
evaporating. Details of ones life are laid out and exposed, allowing for
the examination of the physical relics of someone’s life. This work
examines these domestic spaces that have been very clearly shaped by
women, creating portraits of them and examining the cultural nuances to
which they subscribed, as well as comparing them to our own schema
today. This can be seen in the pieces of cosmetics remaining on a
dressing table and the ornamentation of a house; even the choice of
wallpaper reflects such subtleties.

but curious – well-worn surfaces, upholstery faded from decades of sun.
Illumination plays a key role in the work, aesthetically adding life
back into a space that is now defined by death. What remains becomes
still life as anthropology; these homes become a part of both art and
social science. The miniature as the grand and the grand as the
miniature, like museum dioramas tell us of an ancient past, these still
lives speak to us of the recent past allowing us to create our own
dialogue with this time gone by.

In Back In The Valley,
Rachel returns to her parents home in a series of portraits of her
parents and their home in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. This
project is linked to her landscape work of the same region, Views From The Happy Valley,
which depicts landscapes of the agricultural land that surrounded her
in childhood. 

In this ongoing project Rachel confronts viewers exceptions of family construct in showing her middle-aged lesbian parents in their home revealing the banality of their every day lives.  By pairing landscapes with portraits Rachel shows her deep connection to the valley in that she includes these non-domestic spaces in her schema of home.  

Hiding in the City with Liu Bolin

The relationship between the state and society in China has been ground for producing controversial works of art such as the iconic photograph of Tank Man — the lone civilian standing up to the People’s Liberation Army in Tiananmen Square — or Ai Weiwei’s Study in Perspective, both of which seek a spiritual redress in their defiance of authority. In this sociopolitical tradition stands the work of the Beijing-based artist Liu Bolin, who employs photography as a means to explore the Chinese national identity while silently protesting its government. His series Hiding in the City was born out of the governmental eviction and subsequent destruction of his Beijing studio in 2005. As a result, Liu began to use the city around him as a backdrop, painting himself to blend in with a landscape in constant flux. By literally blending into the city, Liu, who considers himself an outsider, creates a tension that challenges the viewer to question what is on and beneath the surface.

Liu’s Hiding in the City series, along with other work by the photographer, is currently on view at the Eli Klein Fine Art gallery in New York City. For Liu, the most important element of his images is the background. By using iconic cultural landmarks such as the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, or the remains of Suo Jia Village where his studio was housed, Liu seeks to direct awareness to the humanity caught between the relics of the imperial past and the sleek modern monoliths of the 21st century China. Each image requires meticulous planning and execution: as both artist and performer, Liu directs the photographer on how to compose each scene before entering the frame. Once situated, he puts on his Chinese military uniform, which he wears for all of his Invisible Man photographs and, with the help of an assistant and painter, is painted seamlessly into the scene. This process can sometimes take up to 10 hours with Liu having to stand perfectly still. Although the end result of Liu’s process is the photograph, the tension between his body and the landscape is itself a manifestation of China’s incredible social and physical change. Simultaneously a protester and a performance artist, Liu completely deconstructs himself by becoming invisible, becoming a symbol of the humanity hidden within the confines of a developing capital.

Liu Bolin is a Chinese artist whose work has been shown around the world. The exhibition Liu Bolin: Lost in Art will be on view at the Eli Klein Fine Art gallery in New York City through May 11.

Martin Roemers, Karachi, Pakistan

Martin Roemers, Karachi, Pakistan

Martin Roemers

Karachi, Pakistan,
, 2011
From the Metropolis series
Website – MartinRoemers.com

Martin Roemers (b.1962) studied photography at the Academy of Arts in Enschede, The Netherlands. His photos have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Newsweek. Roemers’ photographs are held in public, private and corporate collections including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and The Ford Foundation in New York. He has been working on two long-term projects: Metropolis, about life in Megacities, and The Eyes of War, about people who were blinded as a result of World War II. In 2009 his book Relics of the Cold War was published by Hatje Cantz. He is a member of Panos Pictures and lives in The Netherlands. A selection of work from Metropolis is on view at Anastasia Photo Gallery in New York through April 8, 2012.