Trevor Paglen is going to mark the opening of the new Aksioma Project Space with a very concise exhibition of four projects from his wide-spread artistic research on landscapes and phenomena that are hidden from the public view and work in the heterogeneous interests of the state apparatus. He is going to show a selection from his work Symbology (2006), in which he has collected a wide range of perplexing symbols and insignia that signify secret military operations, various units, command affiliations, and programmes, by which members of these programmes are able to identify one another. The patches represent a distinguished military culture, marked by an explicitly gaudy taste, in which the “Pentagon’s ‘black world’ is replete with the rich symbolic language that characterises other, less obscure, military activities”. The second work at the exhibition, Missing Persons (2006), is going to present another by-product of secret activities, which only insinuates the highly dubious activities of the CIA, for which it has created a wide-spread list of fake names to cover up the trail of their agents. Since the mid-nineties, the CIA has been wildly active in kidnapping, detaining and torturing people who were suspected of terrorism all around the world and it has brought them to a network of secret prisons referred to as “black sited”. For their activities, the CIA has used unmarked aeroplanes, which are owned by intricate networks of front companies whose boards of directors are composed of non-existent people. The Missing Persons project is a collection of their signatures culled from business records, aircraft registrations, and corporate filings. Connected to both of these works is the project Code Names, which lists words, phrases, and terms that designate active military programs whose existence or purpose is classified ranging from intelligence programmes to military operations, and secret identities and fake companies. The forth project is going to present selected works from the Limit Telephotography project, which unveil the geographies of classified military bases and facilities that are off-limits to the general public. In this piece, in which the artist uses highly magnified photographic technology that closely resembles astrophotography, the artist reveals highly grained blurred images of secret geographies, which seem so far as if they did not belong to the same dimension.
A number of classified military bases and installations are located in some of the remotest parts of the United States, hidden deep in western deserts and buffered by dozens of miles of restricted land. Many of these sites are so remote, in fact, that there is nowhere on Earth where a civilian might be able to see them with an unaided eye. In order to produce images of these remote and hidden landscapes, therefore, some unorthodox viewing and imaging techniques are required.
Limit Telephotography involves photographing landscapes that cannot be seen with the unaided eye. The technique employs high powered telescopes whose focal lengths range between 1300mm and 7000mm. At this level of magnification, hidden aspects of the landscape become apparent.
Limit Telephotography most closely resembles astrophotography, a technique that astronomers use to photograph objects that might be trillions of miles from Earth. In some ways, however, it is easier to photograph the depths of the solar system than it is to photograph the recesses of the military industrial complex. Between Earth and Jupiter (500 million miles away), for example, there are about five miles of thick, breathable atmosphere. In contrast, there are upwards of forty miles of thick atmosphere between an observer and the sites depicted in this series.
Military culture is filled with a totemic visual language consisting of symbols and insignia that signify everything from various unit and command affiliations to significant events, and noteworthy programs. A typical uniform will sport patches identifying its wearer’s job, program affiliation, achievements and place within the military hierarchy. These markers of identity and program heraldry begin to create a peculiar symbolic regime when they depict one’s affiliation with what defense-industry insiders call the “black world” – the world of classified programs, projects, and places, whose outlines, even existence, are deeply-held secrets. Nonetheless, the Pentagon’s “black world” is replete with the rich symbolic language that characterizes other, less obscure, military activities.
The symbols and insignia shown in the Symbology series provide a glimpse into how contemporary military units answer questions that have historically been the purview of mystery cults, secret societies, religions, and mystics: How does one represent that which, by definition, must not be represented?
Since the mid 1990s, the CIA has spearheaded a covert program to kidnap suspected terrorists from all over the world. These people are then brought to a network of secret CIA-operated prisons, called “black sites,” where they are routinely tortured. The CIA calls this the “extraordinary rendition” program.
People taken to these secret prisons are effectively “disappeared”: there are no public records of their captivity, their identities are kept secret, and they are prohibited from communicating with the outside world. Among CIA operatives, they are called “ghost detainees.”
The locations of these black sites, known by code-names such as “Salt Pit” and “Bright Light,” are some of the CIA’s deepest secrets.
To capture and subsequently transport these ghost detainees, the CIA uses a fleet of unmarked airplanes. These airplanes are owned by intricate networks of front companies whose boards of directors are non-existent people. Missing Persons is a collection of their signatures culled from business records, aircraft registrations, and corporate filings.
Code Names: Classified Military Programs Active Between 2001 and 2007
Code Names: Classified Military Programs Active Between 2001 and 2007
Code Names is a list of words, phrases, and terms that designate active military programs whose existence or purpose is classified. These include classified exercises and units, intelligence programs, information compartments, and Pentagon “Special Access Programs.”
Radical geographer, muckraking author and outlaw artist, San Francisco-based Trevor Paglen has been exploring the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies—the "black world"—for the last eight years, publishing, speaking and making astonishing photographs. Paglen is interested in the idea of photography as truth-telling, but his pictures often stop short of traditional ideas of documentation. In the series Limit Telephotography, for example, he employs high-end optical systems to photograph top-secret governmental sites; and in The Other Night Sky, he uses the data of amateur satellite watchers to track and photograph classified spacecraft in Earth’s orbit. In other works Paglen transforms documents such as passports, flight data and aliases of CIA operatives into art objects. Paglen’s works touch on the far-out regions where reality becomes indistinguishable from paranoid delusion, and they have taken him from the fabled Area 51 in the Nevada desert to the wastelands of occupied Afghanistan.