Friday, 25 June 2010

Trevor Paglen

A geographer, photographer and documentarian, Trevor Paglen explores and attempts to reveal the clandestine world of US Military 'black ops', and to fill in some of the blank areas on the map. From locating and photographing secret bases, to snatched images of 'extraordinary rendition' flights transporting terror suspects, to patches and insignia from covert military missions, Paglen's output is far from conventional. In fact, despite having gallery representation, he's more like a conspiracy theorist, but a credible one who goes out of his way to play down any wacky theories, and attempts to document as much of this murky world as possible, thus letting his work do the talking for him. He frequently employs absurdly complicated measures to locate and photograph his subject matter: plotting the trajectories of secret US military satellites and taking long exposure shots of the night sky in an attempt to capture their path; shooting a biological weapons proving ground from over 40 miles away, resulting in a blurry, hazy but ultimately chilling image. 
Paglen details his findings sporadically on a blog, and word of his work has spread, so he now finds himself receiving anonymous packages from people inside the military world, who seem keen to aid him in his work. The mission patches are particularly fascinating;  its been a long tradition in the US armed forces to create a unique patch for each testing mission or project, no matter how top secret, and some of these have found their way to Paglen. The symbolism and graphics on these patches are open to interpretation, and comic as they can look they do invariably allude to what the aim of the mission was. The favoured image of a snarling dragon ensaring the globe is pretty disconcerting, but perhaps somehow fitting - in the days before the world was fully mapped and charted, cartographers used to write 'here be dragons' to mark unknown areas. These unknown, unmapped areas are now deliberate blank spots on maps created by the military machine, and the dragons now represent very different beasts indeed.

Large Hangars and Fuel Storage, Tonopah Test Range, NV. Distance - 18 miles

Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground, Dugway, UT. Distance - 42 miles, 11:17am

Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground, Dugway, UT. Distance - 42 miles, 10:51am

Morning Commute (Gold Coast Terminal), Las Vegas, NV. Distance - 1 mile, 6:26am

Unmarked 737 at Gold Coast Terminal, Las Vegas, NV. Distance - 1 mile, 10:44pm

Keyhole Improved Crystal from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaissance Satellite), 2008

Milstar 3 in Sagittarius (Inactive Communication and Targeting Satellite; USA 143), 2008

DMSP 5B/F4 from Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation (Military Meteorological Satellite; 1973-054A), 2009

Nine Reconnaissance Satellites over the Sonora Pass, 2008

All images © Trevor Paglen

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

James Hopkins

You really do have to look twice at the work of British artist James Hopkins, to check your eyes aren’t deceiving you, and to admire the deceptively clever ideas he seems to explore effortlessly in his art. Mortality, time, balance, booze and, ultimately, perception are what he questions in his work. Realising complicated visual illusions in a seemingly simple way is Hopkins’ forte, although serious time and trouble goes into every piece. The painstakingly balanced chairs and tables are actually balanced, there’s no trickery there, and the alcohol is carefully measured into the bottles to counterbalance the pieces. Anamorphic sculptures are also a favourite of his – as the viewer moves around seemingly randomly arranged objects, at one specific point they all align to reveal their true subject (usually a set of Pop Culture cartoon characters, like The Simpsons or the main protagonists from South Park). In the case of Cat & Mouse or Tom & Jerry there is an added level of complexity as each of these random objects represents something the cartoon characters tried to maim or kill each other with in the TV seriess: a gun, a knife, a bomb and so on.

His warped, extended musical instrument series, the first of which was finished in 2001 whilst he was still a student at Goldsmiths College, also play with your sense of perspective, and owe a serious debt to the creepy stretched skull that Hans Holbein The Younger included in his iconic painting The Ambassadors. In fact Holbein’s influence is further felt in another of Hopkins’ projects too, his Vanitas series. Here, objects belonging to imagined archetypes are arranged on shelves, revealing the face of a skull when seen from a distance. The attention to detail and choice of products is brilliant, and Hopkins’ work makes any attempt at self-definition or individuality through the objects we acquire seem ultimately futile, since we’re all destined for the grave in the end.

Love Seat, 2007

Rocking Chair (balanced), 2007

Kicks In The Park, 2006

Impossible Worlds, 2002

Blue Thunder, 2005

The artist in front of The Band, 2001

Perspective Harmony, 2005

Slammer, 2008

Cat & Mouse, 2005

Cat & Mouse, 2005

Role Reversal, 2005

Role Reversal, 2005

Tom & Jerry, 2005

Tom & Jerry, 2005

Wibbly Wobbly Boogie Woogie, 2005 and Melting Mickey, 2006

Melting Mickey, 2006

Love & Hate, 2008

Head Land, 2005

Wasted Youth, 2006

Shelf Life, 2006

Consumption & Consequence, 2006

Shelf Life, 2006

Spirit Level, 2005

Beauty Spot, 2007

Red Bud, 2008

All images © James Hopkins