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Trevor Paglen: The Other Night Sky / MATRIX 225

June 1, 2008 - September 14, 2008

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Trevor Paglen: LACROSSE/ONYX II Passing Through Draco (USA 69), 2007; C-print; 59 x 47 1/2 in.; courtesy of the artist and Bellwether Gallery, New York.

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Trevor Paglen: KEYHOLE/IMPROVED CRYSTAL Optical Reconnaissance Satellite (USA 129) near Scorpio, 2007; C-print; courtesy of the artist and Bellwether Gallery, New York.

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Trevor Paglen: KEYHOLE/ADVANCED IKON (USA 161) in Milky Way, 2007; C-print; courtesy of the artist and Bellwether Gallery, New York.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Photography is an act of concentrated seeing, and by extension an act of knowing. Its origins are intrinsically linked to the idea of the “document,” although our understanding of both the uses and abuses of photography has expanded over the years as its possibilities for recording image and event have been debated and manipulated. Trevor Paglen is interested in the idea of photography as a kind of truth-telling, but his pictures often stop short of documentation, with their blurry subjects and barely discernible detail. Paglen’s nearly constant subject is the “black world” of the United States government, and through research and visualization he attempts to outline the edges and folds of this hidden world of military and intelligence activities. Whether photographing secret military bases from fifty miles away, or imaging spy satellites in the heavens from earth, Paglen’s photographs embody the limits of visibility, imposed both by the realities of physical distance and by informational obfuscation, that keep us as citizens from seeing and knowing these subjects on our own.

This black world is, of course, not meant to be seen, so 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. Paglen’s MATRIX exhibition looks to the night sky as a place of covert activity: working with data compiled by amateur astronomers and hobbyist “satellite observers,” cross-referenced across many sources of information, he tracks and presents what he calls “the other night sky.” Large-scale astro-photographs isolate barely perceptible traces of surveillance vessels amidst familiar star fields, and a digitally animated projection installation covers the globe with 189 currently orbiting satellites.

We have always contemplated the night sky with awe, envisioning ties to mythic pasts or inspirations of space-bound futures. The night sky of the present is pregnant with these associations at the same time that it is full of constellations of audio and visual surveillance satellites launched secretly by the United States government. The presence of these reconnaissance satellites in this “other night sky” is a symptom of recent adaptations to democratic society that have taken us an uneasy distance from the foundations of democracy upon which this country was built. Democracy and empiricism have shared roots in the Age of Enlightenment, when thinkers like Galileo and Newton looked to observable phenomena like the stars and planets in a quest for truth in the face of authoritarian institutions. 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 and democracy in the present moment.

Trevor Paglen’s work has been exhibited at Transmediale.08 Festival, Berlin; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Kunstraum Muenchen, Munich; and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, among other venues. His work has been featured in numerous publications, from Wired to the New York Review of Books to Modern Painters and Aperture. His third book, Blank Spots on a Map, is forthcoming in late 2008 or early 2009. Paglen received his M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this summer will receive his Ph.D. in geography from UC Berkeley. The Other Night Sky is Paglen’s first solo museum exhibition.


Free Admission to the MATRIX Gallery!
We invite you to enjoy free admission to Trevor Paglen: The Other Night Sky from August 6 through the closing of the exhibition on September 14. Most of the museum’s other galleries will be closed in August as we prepare for the major exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, opening on September 10.

Elizabeth Thomas
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

Produced with the support of Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, New York. Special funding for this exhibition is provided by Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan.

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, Jane and Jeffrey Green, Joachim and Nancy Bechtle, Rena Bransten, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Noel and Penny Nellis, James Pick and Rosalyn Laudati, Barclay and Sharon Simpson, Roselyne C. Swig, Paul L. Wattis III, Penelope Cooper and Rena Rosenwasser, Paul Rickert, Iris Shimada, and other generous donors.