Friday, February 27, 2009

Trevor Paglen
Black Ops

Among the varied pieces in the 2008 SECA Art Award exhibit at SFMOMA, there is a display of military patches mounted on a long black display board. This is one of those simple exhibits where the closer I looked, and the more I investigated, the broader, more complex and fascinating it became.

Assembled by Trevor Paglen, the patches represent officially denied classified and clandestine military projects and operations, as well as spy, satellite and space missions. The ones where they say, “Mr. Phelps, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”Like emblems of secret societies throughout history, the patches include symbolism, jargon and imagery, with the added feature of occasional inside jokes to those involved.

Paglen is an Oakland artist, photographer, writer, and experimental geographer. He has traveled the world researching military and C.I.A bases, laboratories, and other secret sites that officially do not exist.

Paglen coined the phrase “experimental geography” in 2002, for engaging in an artistic experience of the earth. An example: A Geological Displacement project called When Faith Moves Mountains', organized by Francis Alÿs, with Rafael Ortega and Cuauhtémoc Medina. The project involved 500 volunteers in a "human comb" moving a sand dune in Peru.

Just think of what Andy Goldsworthy could have done at Woodstock.

In addition to the exhibit at SFMOMA, Paglen has a show opening today at Altman Siegel Gallery

February 12 - May 10th, 2009
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, California 94103

February 27 - April 11, 2009
Altman Siegel Gallery
49 Geary St. 4th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108

For more on Experimental Geography:

Independent Curators International

For more on space mission patches and rocket and nose cone decals:

The Space Review

By Phil Gravitt

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