With the quality of photography in Chelsea at an all time low, man, Trevor Paglen just kills it. I am standing before you now and saying Paglen is the greatest photographer of our generation. Fuck Roe Ethridge, fuck Alec Soth, fuck… Ok, just them, and maybe fuck is a little too harsh, but man, those guys have to step it up, because Paglen just slaughtered them with his show at Metro Pictures. If you haven’t seen it yet, go now. No, go right now. Don’t miss it. Don’t wait till someone does a retrospective or a less exciting follow-up at Metro Pictures. This is your chance. Go now, best thing ever. In no way am I overselling this.
If you’re unfamiliar with Paglen, don’t worry, there is time to catch up. He is an experimental geographer from University of California Berkeley who creates art that makes experimental geography seem like a real thing. Oh, and he also fights injustice by making research-based art installations. Yeah, that’s right, if you can imagine the trite, boring shows of tables with slides are projected on the wall and stakes of files and books to read. Yeah, that kind of thing but better, and the EU used it to pressure the US to stop using Poland as a rendition site in the transferring of prisoners to be tortured. Oh, and he photographed secret military bases from public land using telescopes. Oh, and he helped expose the CIA rendition flights by tracking their flight clearances, or as an experimental geographer would put it, mapping the useable. I know, badass.
Well, up until now, the only complaint you could lay on Paglen is that the art was very often so-so visually and not nearly as interesting as the explanation, which was still a hell of a lot more interesting than most art of its kind. But he has stepped that up and really come into his own as an artist. The work at Metro Pictures revolves around two projects, first the photographing of spy satellites in orbit (I know pretty badass). Paglen’s apparently been mapping the sky with astronomers, and the resulting pictures of little light lines across the night sky are downright pretty as well as being spy satellites. He also has two pictures of secret test flights as seen from the ground. One just dissolves into a tan gradient. They’re beautiful yet crazy as all get out. But that is just the teaser, because his most recent project is a riff on a NASA program that at one point or another was sending up images on long-range satellites, so if aliens found them, they’d have some way to understand us. Which is probably the best photo conceptual project ever. Much of Words With Out Pictures essay are dedicated to the pictures’ ability to truly communicate information. It really doesn’t take into account photography’s ability to communicate to aliens. So Paglen has with the help of MIT curated a collection of a hundred pictures and launched them into outer space on a satellite that will rotate the earth for the next thousand years. Paglen presents the images, and you get to sit there and see a cross section of all the pictures and try to imagine what any of this might mean to aliens. Just fucking brilliant. Best photographer going, hands down.
Through Mar. 9th