Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 2, Build 1)

Trevor Paglen

In Residence: May 21 – Jun 15, 2013

Exhibition: Jul 11 – Sep 15, 2013


What are your interests dealing with space?

Humans have colonized space. A majority of the relationship that we have with space is scientific, military, and commercial. My question is: Can we introduce aesthetics into that?

Can you tell us more about the satellites used in your exhibition?

This is the fifth or sixth satellite I have done. Each has its own design. They are part of a collection of proposals for sculptures that can be put into orbit. These satellites are expandable. They are designed to be what is called “secondary payloads,” so they are very lightweight and piggy-back on somebody else’s rocket. I’ve created a structure that has a lot of volume or surface area, but very little weight. They are shiny and look much bigger than they actually are. The idea is to create a visual signature in the sky—in other words, a pattern of flashing lights in the night. A satellite’s lifetime is determined by its surface area and the height of the orbit it’s put into. These satellites are designed to last a month or two.

It takes a significant amount of time for your work to come to fruition. How do you manage your time on any given project?

I assume that good artwork takes five years to make. In terms of the things that are in this space, they are models and sketches—which is artwork—but they are also sometimes for bigger ideas. I am not the type of person that can go into my studio and then pop out with artwork at the end of the day. I am working on different projects, and the project that is installed is one of those ideas that is at a particular moment that can be shown to somebody else.

Is there a specific group of people that you work with to create your work?

There are different groups of people I work with on different projects. With this project, one of the engineers I worked with is in New York. We also tapped into some local people, but that was for another project. Normally, I’ll have an idea and sketch it out, then talk to somebody who knows how to make it happen.


Download PDF of gallery notes for Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 2, Build 1)


Trevor Paglen

New York, New York, USA

Outer space, secret military operations, shell companies—Trevor Paglen’s work is inspired by his multi-disciplinary investigation of new ways to interpret our world. At Artpace, he continues his interest in making visible the “invisible,” using satellite technology and photo documentation. In a 2010 commission for Creative Time, Last Pictures, he chose 100 photographs to be micro- etched onto an archival silicon disc and affixed to the exterior of a communications satellite orbiting Earth. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the 2009 Istanbul Biennial; and the 2012 Liverpool Biennial. Paglen is the author of five books and holds a BA from UC Berkeley, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a PhD in Geography from UC Berkeley.

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Hou Hanru

San Francisco, California, USA

Hou Hanru is the curator of the 5th Auckland Triennial which debuts in 2013. Between 2006 and 2012, he held the position of Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). As Director, he conceived and executed exhibition in SFAI’s Walter and McBean galleries. Additionally, he served as the Department Chair of Exhibition and Museum Studies, affording students international expertise and mentorship. In 2005, he collaborated with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Guo Xiaoyan, co-curating the 2nd Guangzho Triennale in his native China. More recently, Hanru curated the 2009 Biennale de Lyon. He is a consultant for several international art institutions that include the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, Deutsche Bank Collection, Global Advisory Committee of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Contemporary Art Museum in Kumamoto, Japan. Equally known for his prolific writing, Hanru is the French Correspondent for Flash Art International and a regular contributor to publications that include Frieze, Art Monthly, Third Text, Art and Asia Pacific, and Atlantica.

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