Trevor Paglen, Sight Machine, 2017. Performance view, Pier 70, San Francisco, January 14, 2017. Kronos Quartet. Photo: Joshua Brott, Obscura Digital.

Trevor Paglen is the first artist-in-residence at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. The exhibition “The Eye and the Sky: Trevor Paglen in the Cantor Collection” places his photographic series of predator drones, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” 2010, alongside photographs by artists such as Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Steichen, and Eve Sonneman from the Cantor’s permanent collection. Earlier this year, the Cantor also commissioned Paglen’s multimedia performance Sight Machine. Below, he discusses issues of surveillance in the show, which is on view through July 31, 2017, as well as in the performance. On July 25, 2017, Paglen will participate in a panel discussion on civil liberties in the age of hacking at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His exhibition “A Study of Invisible Images” opens at Metro Pictures in New York on September 8, 2017.

MY TIME AT STANFORD has centered around a development in imagemaking that I think is more significant than the invention of photography. Over the last ten years or so, powerful algorithms and artificial intelligence networks have enabled computers to “see” autonomously. What does it mean that “seeing” no longer requires a human “seer” in the loop?

This past January, the Cantor commissioned Sight Machine, which I produced in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. While the musicians performed selections by Bach, Raymond Scott, Laurie Anderson, and Terry Riley, among other composers, they were surrounded by cameras that all fed video into a rack of computers. The computers were programmed to run a large range of computer-vision algorithms, such as those used in self-driving cars, guided missiles, face detection and recognition software, and artificial intelligence networks used by Facebook, Google, and other companies to interpret images. While the Kronos Quartet played music, a projection behind them showed them as they looked to the array of algorithms watching them.

At one time, to surveil implied “to watch over,” and to survey was basically “to look.” Between these two definitions we get a sense of how photographs can be manipulated for multiple aims. Eadweard Muybridge’s Sunset over Mount Tamalpais, 1872, which gives you a vantage point to look at the Northern California landscape, is also a document of the move toward geopolitical dominance. That work is in “The Eye and the Sky,” and Muybridge has been on my mind for some time. My photographic series in the show, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” is made up of albumen prints of predator drones. They relate to Muybridge because they deal with conventions that we take for granted in landscape photography. During the residency, I worked with computer-vision and artificial intelligence students and researchers to further explore the largely invisible world of machine-to-machine seeing. We not only developed software that allowed us to see what various computer-vision algorithms see when they look at a landscape, but also were able to implement software that could be used in conjunction with artificial intelligence to “evolve” recognizable images from random noise—almost like a hallucination or the phenomenon of pareidolia, in which one sees faces in shapes such as clouds.

To “teach” AI software how to see various objects, you have to use enormous training sets of data. For example, if you want to build an AI program that can recognize pencils, keyboards, and cups, you need to give it thousands of pictures of each object. The AI technology teaches itself how to see the differences between these objects during a training phase of the software development. The libraries of the thousands of images you use to train an AI project are called training sets.

The implicit biases and values built into various training sets can have enormous consequences, and there are numerous examples of training sets creating AIs that reflect the unacknowledged forms of racism, patriarchy, and class division that characterize so much of society. A Google AI program described an African American couple as “a pair of gorillas,” while other AIs technologies routinely assume that doctors are male and nurses are female. Indeed, in AI-based gender-recognition algorithms, subjects are invariably described as either “male” or “female”—the concept of nonbinary gender identities is utterly alien.

This brings me to what I am really fascinated by: a panoramic looking, or bird’s-eye view, that you get with nineteenth-century landscape photography and that you begin to see manifested in the twentieth century as surveillance by machines. In the twenty-first century it involves total machine capture. At Stanford, we started developing training sets based on taxonomies from literature, psychoanalysis, political economy, and poetry. We built an AI program that can only see scenes from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and another that can only see monsters associated with metaphors of capital such as vampires and zombies. Another one is trained to see “American predators,” from Venus flytraps to predator drones. With this body of work, I wanted to point to some of the potential dangers associated with the widespread deployment of AI and other optimization technologies.

In AI there are enforcement mechanisms that are even harder to discern. We are training machines in patriarchal histories or racist histories, etc. We know gender is fluid and race is a construct, but that is not the case with machine categorization. There is an assumption that the technology is unbiased, but it is not. These are not merely representational systems or optimization systems; they are set up as normative systems and therefore they become enforcement systems. The project to redefine the normal human is a political project. The contestation of those categories is essential before they become hard-coded into infrastructure. Sight Machine and my photographs included in “Time Study” address machine vision and the invisibility of these repressive visual regimes.

Read Trevor Paglen’s 1000 Words in the March 2009 issue of Artforum here.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama, 2016, 35 mm, color, sound, 130 minutes. Yacine (Hamza Meziani).

Released mere months after the series of terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Bertrand Bonello’s provocative film Nocturama (2016) centers on a gang of French teenagers, played by actors and nonprofessionals, who conspire to blow up national and corporate landmarks throughout the city in a wave of coordinated bombings. It will be released from Grasshopper Film on August 11, 2017, and will play at theaters in New York before a larger US tour this September. The Film Society at Lincoln Center will also host “Deeper into Nocturama” from August 18 to August 24, 2017, a program featuring films selected by Bonello that have inspired his work. Additionally, his twenty-four-minute short film Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera (2016), based on the biography of the eccentric nineteenth-century gun heiress, is now available on the Grasshopper Film website.

NOCTURAMA WAS MADE BEFORE the Paris attacks, but it was released after. It was very difficult for people to see this kind of narrative. The film had some common points with the attacks, but at the same time it was very different. Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with insurrection—not in its classical sense. In the film, some young people are planting bombs to attack Paris in similar places and at simultaneous times. But it’s not reality; it’s not about ISIS, there is not a clear reason for their actions, and there’s no one explaining why these attacks are happening. Still, it was too tough for some audiences to watch. But when you mix reality and abstraction, it speaks to the success and the power of cinema.

One of my favorite books—and one that helped me with the writing of Nocturama—is The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude by Étienne de La Boétie. It was written in the sixteenth century by a twenty-year-old, and it is still one of the strongest political books about insurrection. It presents ancient ideas: the notion of the people versus the state…and, well, actually, of freedom. We are very attached to freedom. It has always run through our history and culture.

We live in a period that can create a person who is totally fascinated by terrorism and capitalism at the same time. If I had made Nocturama forty years ago I would have only made the first part of the film, because it was about the reality of the streets. The first part was shot during the day with a lot of movement in real places, including the Paris metro, almost like a documentary. It’s the second part of the film that makes it feel very contemporary, because it is in an artificial, commercial world that we constructed. We were very lucky to find an old department store in the center of Paris called La Samaritaine. It was totally empty, so we had to recreate everything inside. What was fascinating about it is that it doesn’t have any windows, so you are kept from the reality of the outside, as if you were in a box. The space was very expensive, so we didn’t rent it for that long. I think we had it for four weeks before the shoot, and then we shot inside of it for six weeks. Every Saturday and Sunday I would spend alone there—just walking around trying to find the next shot. These were weird moments. Some people talk about malls and department stores as dreamy places. In fact, they’re freaky; they’re a dream and hell at the same time.

Trailer for Bertrand Bernello’s Nocturama, 2016.

Cannes didn’t want the film, so we decided to go to the Toronto and San Sebastian festivals. The exclusion from Cannes probably didn’t help for sales and at the box office. There were so many articles and messages on online social networks that said the film was not selected at Cannes because of its subject. The controversy began from there, and it was difficult to stop it. Of course, I wonder how the film would have been received if it were released two years before. The French critics understood it. My problem was with the social networks, the blogs. There are a lot of haters on these platforms.

In many of my films, like House of Tolerance, Nocturama, and Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera, I’m attracted to places that become their own inside world. I heard of Sarah Winchester ten or twelve years ago, and when I read the story of her life I immediately wanted to make a film about it. I started to write a treatment, but it immediately became too expensive. And it had to be an American film, because it was a real American story. I didn’t feel like I could achieve it, so I left it on my desk and dropped it. When the Paris Opera gave me carte blanche for a project as part of its Third Scene initiative, I decided the form of the opera would be an amazing way to tell the Winchester story. I’m still surprised that there is not an American film about this story—someone like Michael Cimino could have made an amazing version of it, a true story about America based on one woman.

— As told to Erik Morse

Sam Gilliam


Sam Gilliam, Yves Klein Blue, 2017, acrylic on Cerex nylon. Installation view, central pavilion, Venice, 2017. From the 57th Venice Biennale. Photo: David Velasco.

Sam Gilliam is a Washington, DC–based artist whose vibrantly hued unstretched canvas Yves Klein Blue, 2017, will be draped across the entrance to the Giardini’s central pavilion at the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale until the show closes on November 26, 2017. Here, Gilliam speaks of his earlier participation in the Biennale, forty-five years ago, and his continued investigation into the expanded field of painting. His work is also featured in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which will be on view at Tate Modern from July 12 to October 22, 2017.

IN VENICE, I’m showing Yves Klein Blue, an outdoor drape piece that hangs on the front of the building. Suspended from the ceiling of the colonnade entrance, it blows in the wind. Seahorses was my first outdoor drape, which I did in 1975 for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Installing that piece on the outside of the museum was fantastic because we used a hook and ladder truck from a division of the fire department. We got up to the rings along the building, and we did the installation. Around 8 PM that night we finished, and, sure enough, there was a major storm coming off the Atlantic. We went to dinner, and we came back. There was this really beautiful moment when the strong winds inhabited the piece—rays of light shot through the fabric, creating shadows in the folds. I wanted Yves Klein Blue to billow like that early work.

I first encountered Yves Klein while stationed with the army in Japan. There was a Klein exhibition in Tokyo. The Gutai group was being born, and I was in the army, and I thought nothing about whether I would be an artist or not. In fact, I probably thought that I would never be an artist. But Klein had an effect on me, and I thought about making art beyond the interiors that it is usually presented in, about making art more in the outside world.

In 1972, I was in Venice to install my work Baroque Cascade, which measured ten by seventy-five feet when undraped. I was there alongside Ron Davis, Diane Arbus, Keith Sonnier, Jim Nutt, Richard Estes, and Walter Hopps. I went over early to assist with the installation. I was particularly excited to show my work because of my desire to connect painting and architecture.

All that is happening now—the immigration crisis, the bombs, the gutting of the National Endowment for the Arts, the presidential corruption—was present in the 1970s. It seems worse now, but history, like art, is cyclical. Yet, I think we’re in a much worse place than we were in the ’60s, when the NEA was initiated by the Johnson administration. This time, it’s almost the same, but where are our educational institutions?

To gesture at the cycles of history is art at its greatest capacity. Yves Klein Blue is about participating in a continuum—it’s about connecting the precursors with the present. After all, blue is what we think of first when we imagine a Klein, but there is something autobiographical there for me as well, which harks back to my early formative years. To me, art is about moving outside of traditional ways of thinking. It’s about artists generating their own modes of working. We need to continue to think about the whole of what art is, what it does. Even though my work is not overtly political, I believe art has the ability to call attention to politics and to remind us of this potential through its presence.

For more reflections on the NEA from Johnie Scott, Barbara Rose, Maya Lin, Ed Ruscha, and Ian Volner, see the Summer 2017 issue of Artforum here.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

*View of “scenic, say,” 2017.

Emily Roysdon’s exhibition “scenic, say” at Kunsthalle Lissabon marks a transitional moment in the artist’s work as she shifts from her site-specific performance and text project Uncounted, 2014–17. Here, the Stockholm-based artist discusses moving forward and creating spaces for both “alive time” and loss. The show is on view through September 2, 2017.

WHEN KUNSTHALLE LISSABON contacted me about doing an exhibition a year and a half ago, I imagined I’d soon be stepping out of my project Uncounted. Uncounted began as a collection of textual fragments, phrases, and questions that influence each other in various ways as the text develops over the course of writing. One of the phrases, “alive time,” has been at the heart of the project for years. I’ve written about it, but only by asking other questions—for instance, about marginality, what is unseen in time, and the project’s phrase “how to build a structure to be alive inside.” I think one of the reasons I’m so connected to “alive time” is that there’s inherently a sense of loss in this phrase that’s important to me.

I needed a sense of loss to be constitutional to what I’m creating right now. I was leaving Uncounted and experiencing the loss of my grandmother. I’ve always said that I have three moms, and she was one. I had been photographing her, and them, for about twenty years. And so, in grief, after losing her, I was going through my image archive over and over again—every old negative, analog, medium-format, 35-mm, and digital image. So in a way the exhibition comes from this personal image archive. But I’m not that kind of artist; I’m not going to just use my image archive—at least not at this point in my life—to tell the story of my three moms and the unconventional matriarchy that we have. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll do a straightforward show like that. Instead, to make this show, I wanted to honor these questions around grief and see how they intersect with “alive time.”

I play with an idea of theater in “scenic, say.” In many ways I have always used it as a specter—this thing that I imagine, but that I’m not that rigorous about. I build it as a shadow structure to my thinking. In this exhibition it’s a bit more formalized though; the relation to theater is announced in that first word scenic, but then also in the series of five wall murals titled “Vanishing Point” and the collages titled “prosceniums.”

Of the wall murals, one features my grandmother Enid in the bathroom. There’s a toilet bowl in the bottom left corner, and she’s grabbing for a bar on the wall for some support. I consider her the protagonist. I thought her leaning was important somehow—this elegant lean, this need for help. I think that grounds the show in a lot of ways. It’s the first figure you really have access to. Of the other murals, one is a choreographic moment, two are architectural/spatial, and another, the largest, is from my “piers” series and depicts a horizon that embodies a particular cultural history and city space.

As I’ve been making exhibitions with Uncounted the last few years, I have focused on different questions in the text to stage my exhibitions and make works out of the various proposals. But in “scenic, say” I really boiled them down and isolated a few phrases so that they have different performative relationships to the “prosceniums” I constructed in the collages. I tried to give the following phrases from Uncounted a different materiality, by using them in my collages: “aliveness trespasses,” “what is a transition that is not a solution,” “What instruments have we?,” “a length of inaction,” and “genders and governments, the shifting of weight, the changing of direction.”

That the collages are independent, each on their separate stands, means the works themselves create a space; they are something you navigate. They compose a landscape. I like to tether the text and questions to that performative space, and for that performative space to be the back side of a photo that you’re not seeing. Both series use photography to think about “alive time,” and in both the integrity of the space is obstructed, calling up the questions of trespass and marginality that Uncounted writes around.

— As told to Samara Davis

Caption: Cover of FISCHERSPOONER’S SIR (Ultra Records, 2017). Photo: Vincent Claudio Urbani.

FISCHERSPOONER is the dynamic duo Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, who have been joined by many collaborators during their nearly two decades of creativity. Their latest output includes an upcoming album from Ultra Records, cowritten and coproduced by Michael Stipe with additional production by BOOTS on the lead single “Have Fun Tonight,” and released in time for New York City Pride; an exhibition at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK) in Vienna, on view from June 30 through October 29, 2017; and an artist’s book designed by Nicolas Santos—all titled SIR. Here, they discuss their work across music, fashion, photography, film, performance, and more.

WE’VE NEVER HAD a museum exhibition and an album release at the same time. It’s a unique creative opportunity when everything comes to fruition simultaneously. For example, the designer Nicolas Santos is working on the album packaging while he’s designing the artist’s book; he made these Carl Andre–inspired text-patterned pieces for the publication that are also in a music video, and probably out of that will come projections for a concert. Short-form, long-form, populist, elitist—it’s an amazing moment for us to explore different modes of art making more fully.

Our exhibition at MUMOK, curated by Marianne Dobner, consists of a photo, film, and sound installation that incorporates a series of images taken with the photographer Yuki James in Casey’s old apartment. The images are printed as wallpaper that surrounds the room, and from those photos we shot a music video for the song “Togetherness.” We’re also showing a video sculpture with a single take of a dance between Casey and a performer named Juan Pablo Rahal, slowed down to an eighth of its speed, with audio. It’s about twenty-seven minutes long, and the music is so abstract that it sounds like growling, explosions, and door slamming—an ominous soundtrack within this domestic fantasy.

Usually when we work on an album, we begin thinking in terms of character and image before or alongside making music. We knew we couldn’t do our usual avant-garde, high-fashion Pop extravaganza, because when we started in 1998 it seemed exciting and interesting, but now it’s become status quo. The challenge was how to make something powerful, unusual, and relevant now. Casey has started to tap into this ’70s gay character—mustache, long hair, built body—that seems to be connecting with a young audience coming of age amidst the emergence of internet-sex-app connectivity and Truvada in the United States; it’s a post–gay liberation, pre–AIDS epidemic image that shows the parallels between now and then. Vigilant homosexuality as a theme for the album became immensely, awkwardly, personal and private and in a way, a crusade.

Excerpt from FISCHERSPOONER’s interview for 500 Words.

Michael Stipe has been a complete and utter revelation in our process because we’ve never trusted a producer; we’ve always controlled everything ourselves. There’s a new naturalism in our music; we kind of equate it to a ’70s Lou Reed record like Berlin. It doesn’t sound like that, but there are just a lot of flaws. Michael was obsessed with making sure we didn’t airbrush the vocals too much. He wanted it to feel human, and so the vocals are dry and unaffected.

The artist’s book is our third publication. As an exercise, Casey decided to give his phone, with everything in it from the past four years, to our collaborator Nicolas Santos and asked him to try to embarrass us. The book is basically a collage of Casey’s personal life built from DIY, user-generated content; it’s a visual diary, made by someone else. We think one of the most powerful images Santos picked is of an email from Casey’s mother. It was in response to a portrait of Casey with his tongue sticking upwards. She sent him an email saying, “Dear Casey, Please change your profile picture . . . it’s obscene . . . all the little old ladies who love you see it . . . love, Mom.” A screen grab of the email is on the last page of the book, and the tongue image itself is also the album cover.

Everything comes together as a body of work, a cycle, an era. That’s not a strategy—we just have interrelated ideas that fit both art and entertainment. The only reason why these worlds are typically separated is because of capitalism. But we love ideas and don’t care about the financial systems that exploit them. This may be our greatest strength and our greatest weakness.

— As told to Alex Fialho

Raymond Depardon, 6h57 du matin 1er mai 2017. New York. Le jour se lève sur Broadway. Je fais ma première photo en 20 x 25 avant de foncer au labo. La ville ne semble pas avoir beaucoup changé. Elle a toujours ce côté “paradis de la photographie,” mais aussi ce côté “fosse aux serpents” que j’aime beaucoup. (6:57 AM May 1, 2017. New York. Day breaks over Broadway. I take my first 8 x 10 photo before heading to the lab. The city doesn’t seem to have changed much. It still has this “paradise of photography” side, but also this “snake pit” side that I like very much.), 2017, color photograph. From the series “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” 1981–2017.

Acclaimed French photographer and documentarist Raymond Depardon revisits his photographic series “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” 1981, which occasioned a turning point in his career and a shift from photojournalism to an approach that blended photography and writing. In 2017 he updated this project by once again taking a photo a day for the French newspaper Libération, which were also accompanied by a short text. The two iterations of the series are being presented together at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York until July 1, 2017. Depardon’s latest documentary, 12 Jours (Twelve Days), 2017, was presented at the Cannes Film Festival last month.

LIBÉRATION WAS A SMALL, INVENTIVE PAPER, widely read in French leftist circles, but not yet distributed in America at the time. In 1981, I found myself in the offices of Serge July, the editor in chief, who asked what I was doing that summer. I was pleased to say that I was leaving for New York to meet a girlfriend who lived there. He said, “Why don’t you send in a photo every day?” I asked a friend to introduce me to John Durniak, the picture editor of the New York Times—a legend at the time—to see if I could follow the Times photojournalists, like an intern. I took photos with my Leica, had them developed at Time Inc., and sent one via a Concorde plane to Paris every day for a month. The next day it would be printed in Libération, full-page.

I already had a desire to write—that’s why I’m sort of singular in the photo world. Usually a photographer only writes captions. But I was in the midst of a photojournalistic crisis. I had founded the Gamma agency almost fifteen years earlier. I’d lost a friend, Gilles Caron, in Cambodia, and I said to myself that next time it would be my turn. The newspapers were in the midst of a transformation, too. Life magazine had just closed down. I was influenced by Roland Barthes, the great intellectual in France at the time, and particularly by his essay “The Rhetoric of the Image” (1964). He said either a caption was an explanation of a photo, a kind of “anchor caption,” or, on the contrary, it said nothing about what was in the photo, but acted more as a “relay caption.” I really liked that idea, because I’ve always felt that when I take pictures I am thinking of something else, I am not necessarily thinking of the moment.

I’m also an exception in French photography, because I come from the countryside. I grew up on a farm, and the first sixteen years of my life were happy, really magnificent. People who come from farms no longer exist; there are no more farms, in fact. It gave me an important foundation from which to confront a mad world, the world of photographers and journalists.

Something happened to me that summer of ’81 that saved me, because it pushed me to leave photojournalism. One day, Durniak called, saying, “The photographers’ unions don’t want you to stay at the New York Times.” I found myself on the street, and I didn’t know what I was going to do! Then I went to the Guggenheim, inside coffee shops, on the street—and took photos of everyday life. I realized that I didn’t need to be guided by journalists or news items.

So, gradually, from a photo-reporter, I became a photographer. “Correspondance New-Yorkaise” was a milestone—it allowed me to publish thirty photos over the course of a month, which was a novelty. The two things that existed at the time were the photo essay and the picture story—and in France we were not even doing those yet; we were still just photographing current affairs. Later on, this sort of project, in which photographs are taken in installments, was done again, but those photographers did not really play by the rules: they took the photos ahead of time. I really played the game of taking a photo a day in 1981, and then again in 2017.

One day I said to myself, “France has to be photographed. And France has to be photographed with an 8 x 10 field camera.” So I took to the road for four years in a camper van, and I photographed France in color. Everything started with the foundational work of “Correspondance New-Yorkaise.”

When people ask, “Is Raymond using digital?” we always joke about it—especially my wife, Claudine, who responds, “Wait, he’s only just getting to color!” I don’t need digital for my photography (filmmaking is another story). This month, thirty-six years later, here I am with my 8 x 10, which seems completely crazy. But at the same time it’s wonderful, because the 8 x 10 may be better suited to “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” since you can’t fire off a bunch of shots—it’s too expensive. You can take five or six, and the quality is extraordinary. It’s not an option to walk around with it, like I did with my Leica in ’81; the 8 x 10 is too heavy. I didn’t have a lot of time. My one regret, perhaps, is not doing a specific text on architecture in this new series. I love the architecture of New York.

—As told to Laura Hoffmann

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.