NEW YORK, NY.-
This fall, Creative Time
will launch The Last Pictures, an archival disc created by artist Trevor Paglen, into outer space, where it will orbit the earth for billions of years affixed to the exterior of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI. To create the artifact, Paglen micro-etched one hundred photographs selected to represent modern human history onto a silicon disc encased in a gold-plated shell, designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Last Pictures is both a message to the future and a poetic meditation on the legacy of our civilization. The images contained in the artifact constitute what the artist describes as cave paintings from the 21st-century, as they will become one of the longest-lasting material remnants of contemporary civilization. Following its launch from Kazakhstan in September 2012, the artifact will remain in the Earths geosynchronous orbit in virtual perpetuity. Audiences on earth will be able to experience the project through a series of public events and programs held in New York City, across the country, and around the world.
Paglen developed The Last Pictures through years of research and consultation with leading philosophers, scientists, engineers, artists, and historians and through a residency sponsored by the Visiting Artists Program at MIT. The project originates from the idea that the communications satellites in Earths orbit will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. These geostationary satellites, located above the equator at an altitude of 24,000 miles, experience no atmospheric drag, and will remain in orbit until our sun expands into a red giant and engulfs the earth about 4.5 billion years from now. The Last Pictures imagines a future Earth where there is no evidence of human civilization beyond the derelict spacecraft we have left behind in our planets orbit.
Creative Time Chief Curator Nato Thompson says, In essence Copernicus used the skills of representation to transform our ideas of where the earth existed in the universe. In that spirit, Trevor Paglens project might just do the same for us, only by giving us a sense of the radically astonishing small space we hold in time.
While the satellite-mounted artifact of The Last Pictures awaits deciphering by future civilizations, the project will also be shared with audiences on Earth. A display of a gold-plated disc at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is planned for fall 2012, and Paglen and Creative Time will present a series of artist talks, a website, and an accompanying book co-published by University of California Press and Creative Time Books. In partnership with The New York Public Library's LIVE from the NYPL program, Paglen and Creative Time will also present an evening of performances and conversations with leading scientists and philosophers to debut the project in New York Citys Bryant Park, coinciding with the EchoStar XVI satellite launch in September 2012.
For almost forty years, Creative Time has been taking artists and publics to unexpected, exciting, thought-provoking places around New York City, the nation, and the world and now, into outer space, says Anne Pasternak, Creative Times President and Artistic Director. As much as The Last Pictures is an opportunity for Creative Time to further its programs beyond our Earth, it is also an opportunity for artist Trevor Paglen to push his artistic practice into new realms. Trevor is known for stunning photographs that force us to rethink our environment in profound, historic ways. Now, with The Last Pictures, Trevor has created an artwork that will likely be a part of our skyscape for billions of yearseven longer than multi-celled organisms have been on Earth. It is a timescale so vast, it is difficult for us to comprehend.
Joao Ribas, Curator of MITs List Visual Arts Center, says, "As human beings were used to thinking about time in terms of hours or years. The Last Pictures asks: how we do think about a deeper time beyond the human? Combining the metaphysical with the scientific, ecological, and technological, Trevor Paglen forces us to think about our relation to time in a deep way, by encoding information about our presence on earth in materials that can last for very long time. A cosmic message in a bottle, the artifact he produced as an artist in residence through the MIT List Visual Arts Center continues his interest in the sky as a place where the past and future meet."
The Last Pictures is part of a long tradition of public intersections of art and space, with direct reference to NASA and Carl Sagans Golden Record of 1977, a project that attached to space probes phonograph records containing sounds and images portraying the diversity of life on earth and suggesting the possibility of communicating with extraterrestrial life forms and/or future humans. As much as Paglens project draws on past attempts at universal communication beyond the confines of time, it also recognizes the inevitable impossibility of this taskthat such communication can only be partial, fragmentary, and quasi-intelligible. Aware that The Last Pictures may never be discovered, Paglen also intends this project to serve as a stark reminder of humanitys fragility and as a meditation on our ultimate fate.