Human civilizations' longest lasting artifacts are not the great Pyramids of Giza, nor the cave paintings at Lascaux, but the communications satellites that circle our planet. In a stationary orbit above the equator, the satellites that broadcast our TV signals, route our phone calls, and process our credit card transactions experience no atmospheric drag. Their inert hulls will continue to drift around Earth until the Sun expands into a red giant and engulfs them about 4.5 billion years from now.
The Last Pictures, co-published by Creative Time Books, is rooted in the premise that these communications satellites will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. Inspired in part by ancient cave paintings, nuclear waste warning signs, and Carl Sagan's Golden Records of the 1970s, artist/geographer Trevor Paglen has developed a collection of one hundred images that will be etched onto an ultra-archival, golden silicon disc. The disc, commissioned by Creative Time, will then be sent into orbit onboard the Echostar XVI satellite in September 2012, as both a time capsule and a message to the future.
The selection of 100 images, which are the centerpiece of the book, was influenced by four years of interviews with leading scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, and artists about the contradictions that characterize contemporary civilizations. Consequently, The Last Pictures engages some of the most profound questions of the human experience, provoking discourse about communication, deep time, and the economic, environmental, and social uncertainties that define our historical moment.
Copub: Creative Time Books
Foreword by Anne Pasternak and Nato Thompson
Introduction: Geographies of Time
1 Ancient Aliens
2 One Hundred Pictures, Frozen in Time
“Belonging”: Human/Archive/World by Katie Detwiler
3 One Hundred Pictures
Notes on the One Hundred Pictures
4 Field Notes
The Artifact Cover Etching by Joel Weisberg
Talking Mathematics to Aliens? (Get Real! . . . or Have Fun with Anthropomorphism 101!) by Rafael Núñez
Putting a Time Capsule in Orbit: What Should It Be Made Of? by Brian L. Wardle and Karl Berggren
The EchoStar XVI Mission by EchoStar Corporation
Trevor Paglen is an internationally recognized artist, writer, and scholar working across multiple disciplines in a variety of media. Among his books are Blank Spots on the Map, Torture Taxi, and I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me. His art is in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
“This is not just a publicist-driven fancy. . . . [Paglen’s images are] aesthetic and allegorical. . . . A unique tale of recent human history.”—Wallpaper
“Throughout the discussion, Herzog vacillated between good-naturedly ridiculing aspects of Paglen's project—one that the artist himself cheerfully described as ridiculous—and warmly praising it. . . . And of the book that accompanies the project, which collects all the photographs, he said, ‘This is one of the most beautiful books I've held in my hands in a long time.’”—Art In America
“A book, also titled The Last Pictures, functions as a widely accessible earthbound iteration of the project and offers context beyond the images, giving present day humans more insight than future beings. Indeed the existence of the book extends the scope of the project beyond the rarefied air of conceptual art and the masculine bravado of Land Art, bridging the gaps of these ideas with the shared human preoccupation with time and space. Though the nature of this project as ‘art’ in the formal sense may have confounded some scientists who worked with Paglen, ultimately it was the challenge of making it happen that engaged everyone's inner time traveler.”—KQED Arts
“Herzog, persuasively skeptical from the beginning, startled the audience halfway through by stating that The Last Pictures is ‘one of the most amazing, beautiful photo books I’ve ever seen.’ Then returning to the role of contrarian, he pointed out the fundamental problem with the entire project, one that seemed obvious to me and my colleague Lowen Liu from the get-go: Aliens don’t have eyes.”—Slate/Browbeat Blog
“There is still, rather surprisingly, something thrilling about The Last Pictures: it almost works in spite of its own vastly overwrought pretensions.”—Society & Space:Environment & Planning D:
By this point, Mr. Paglen's voice had started to grow reedy. If it was me, it would have been only a matter of time until I burst into tears. Fortunately, Mr. Herzog leavened his skepticism with lavish praise for the ambition of the project itself and a spin-off book from University of California Press. ‘It's a book you can give your children,’ Mr. Herzog announced, providing the artist an instant cover blurb. I trust there's time left before launch to etch it onto the disc.”—Wall Street Journal
“The majority of the images, which are published in the Last Pictures book, carry layers of narrative.”—Wired
"The images are wondrous, paradoxical, and awe-inspiring."—Dara Solomon Prefix
2017 MacArthur Fellow, MacArthur Foundation