Trevor Paglen offers secret Geographies of Seeing at Lighthouse Brighton

By Mark Sheerin | 11 October 2012
a photograph of a radar installation amdist lush green valleys
© Trevor Paglen
Brighton Photo Biennial review: Trevor Paglen: Geographies of Seeing, Lighthouse, Brighton, until November 4 2012

Exhibition notes describe Paglen as a writer, scientist and provocateur along with the term artist. And this seems fitting, because Geographies of Seeing brings to mind the system-haunted paranoia of novels by fellow Americans and technology obsessives such as Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon.

But what could be more nervy than turning telescopic cameras on unrecorded military bases deep in restricted zones? Paglen does just that, and espies a Reaper Drone from two miles away, hangars from 18 miles away. These scenes blur and shimmer as if with a heat reaction; the effect is of menace and power.

Both works are from the Limit Telephotography series, most of the rest of the show is drawn from series The Other Night Sky. As the name suggests, Paglen and/or collaborators in the world of astronomy have trained their cameras skywards to capture the flightpaths of satellites.

While the shots are beautiful and rich studies of texture and colour, the effect is once again ominous when we learn for example that no one has laid claim to a piece of orbiting comms tech by the name of PAN. Paglen concludes it belongs to the CIA and suggests the three letter acronym could stand for Pick a Name.

There is, it seems, a poetry of classification and confidentiality. A trail of satellite Lacrosse/Onyx II is accompanied by a plaque which informs the viewer than the operator’s motto is We Own The Night. 

No less suggestive is the piece called They Watch the Moon, where a cluster of satellite dishes glow like a fairy grotto in a woodland setting. This is as surreal as anything from the world of surveillance.

The final piece in the show comprises the hacked signal of a commercial communications satellite. This offers a drone-eyed vision of the earth, and a glimpse of a not so distant world in which any one of us could fall prey to an attack from above.

The piece is effortlessly dystopian and it demonstrates that truth is no less dark than a certain type of fiction. This art is anything but escapist.

  • Open 11am-6pm. Admission free. Find out more about the Brighton Photo Biennial at www.bpb.org.uk

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