Washington, DC

Trevor Paglen, Gold Artifact, 2013, etched gold-plated disk, 4 7⁄8 × 4 7⁄8 × 3⁄8".

Trevor Paglen, Gold Artifact, 2013, etched gold-plated disk, 4 7⁄8 × 4 7⁄8 × 3⁄8".

Trevor Paglen

Smithsonian American Art Museum

In his famed description of Paul Klee’s 1920 monoprint Angelus Novus, Walter Benjamin conjured an “angel of history” who is blown by the storms of progress into the future while facing backward toward the piling wreckage of the “catastrophe” that is the past. Tellingly, a photograph of the back of Klee’s work is the first picture on Trevor Paglen’s Gold Artifact, 2013. Shot into orbit on a communications satellite, the etched disc bears one hundred cynical images of and about humanity, which it almost certainly will outlast. Like Benjamin’s angel, Paglen surveys the visible and not-so-visible catastrophes—including those spurred, in the name of progress, by myriad technologies of surveillance and control—that gave rise to our present moment and are propelling us into an uncertain future.

Among the earliest bodies of work in “Sites Unseen,” Paglen’s first major survey, were projects that

Sign-in to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for artforum.com? Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW for only $50 a year—65% off the newsstand price—and get the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the PRINT EDITION of the February 2019 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.