Artist Trevor Paglen has quite literally launched an exhibition of global – and intergalactic -- scope. He sent an archival disc of photographs -- called “The Last Pictures” -- into outer space Tuesday, meant to orbit Earth for billions of years.
Paglen consulted with scientists, artists, philosophers, historians, astronomers, physicists and cultural theorists to whittle down human history into 100 photographs that make a cultural statement about our civilization. He then micro-etched the images onto a disc that was encased in a gold shell designed at MIT and Carleton College.
With help from the EchoStar Corp., which donated engineers to the project, the intrepid space-traveling exhibition was then attached to the exterior of a communications satellite, EchoStar XVI, and sent into space on Tuesday.
The lift-off site? The Republic of Kazakhstan.
“The Last Pictures” was commissioned by the New York-based nonprofit Creative Time, which has been working with artists on public art projects since 1974. The project was partially sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Paglen calls the photos “cave paintings from the 21st century." He means the disc to become a cultural artifact that may be one of the last remaining remnants of our time. He sees it as both a message to the future and a meditation on the times we live in.
"At some point in the planet's future," says Paglen, "there may be little evidence of human civilization on Earth's surface. A billion years from now, we can imagine a new generation of dinosaurs or highly evolved sea creatures looking up at the night sky and noticing a ring of dead machines encircling our planet. If they investigate those strange monoliths, 'The Last Pictures' might help explain what happened to the people who built them."
Paglen’s work has been shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, among other places.
The University of California Press along with Creative Time Books will jointly publish a book of the photographs, also called “The Last Pictures,” with accompanying essays.