Trevor Paglen




Trevor Paglen

Work from The Other Night Sky and Symbology.

“‘The Other Night Sky’ is a project to track and photograph classified American satellites in Earth orbit, a total of 189 covert spacecraft. To develop the body of work, I was assisted by observational data produced by an international network of amateur “satellite observers.” To translate the observational data into a useable form, I spent almost two years working with a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology to develop a software model to describe the orbital motion of classified spacecraft.

With these tools, I am able to calculate the position and timing of overhead reconnaissance satellite transits and photograph them with telescopes and large-format cameras using a computer-guided mechanical mount. The resultant skyscapes are marked by trails of sunlight reflected from the hulls of obscure spacecraft hurtling through the night.

In developing this project, I have been primarily inspired by the methods of early astronomers like Kepler and Galileo, who documented previously-unseen moons of Jupiter in the early 17th Century. Like contemporary reconnaissance satellites, Jupiter’s moons weren’t supposed to “exist,” but were nonetheless there. With this series, I want to ask what it means to see the traces of “secret moons” in the contemporary night sky.”

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Symbology (Volume I) 

“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?”

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