The Last Picture Show

July 11th, 2012

Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures from Creative Time on Vimeo.

Something to look forward to: in September, and commissioned by Creative Time, artist Trevor Paglen will send into orbit a super album of pictures from Earth’s history. Encoded on a silicon disk built to last billions of years, the album will ride on the television satellite EchoStar XVI, eventually orbiting the planet approximately 23,000 miles above our leveled cities and decomposed copyright lawyers.

Ponder that for a moment. According to the Drake equation, it is surprisingly likely that a technologically advanced civilization will find the satellite. Will the civilization’s viewers have eyes? How many other satellites will zip around Earth? Will the satellites seem like artifacts of the Earth-dwellers? Or will be they be mistaken as Earth dwellers themselves? Through time travel, could the recipients respond? Return the package like an unwanted Delia’s catalog?

John Waters, "Return to Sender," 2003

But really, the gift of this show could be a challenge to look beyond the technology and scientific achievement of this project, and even beyond the promising teamwork behind engineers and an artist, and into a prior legacy: the searching gaze of our common imagination.

From Prometheus

“but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?” – John Donne

The precedents for this optimistic message-in-a-bottle are Carl Sagan’s Golden Records, packaged into Voyager 1 and 2 (and marketed here as Murmurs from Earth). Knowingly, the promo video above opens with Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground by Blind Willie Johnson, a track from Sagan’s collection.

“Send more Chuck Berry” was the alien response to the Golden Records, at least in a classic episode of Saturday Night Live. Will Paglen’s album have equitably exciting contents? Send more M.C. Escher?

From "The Newsroom" title sequence
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One Response to “The Last Picture Show”

  1. Tamil Translation says:

    wow nice videos and photos