Machinic Vision

MV-1Kofi Annan addressing the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III),  July 1999

Machinic Vision
A PhD roundtable organised by the Centre for Research Architecture/Forensic Architecture

The first PhD roundtable of 2012-13 brings the work of artist and experimental geographer Trevor Paglen together with legal scholar and philosopher Oscar Guardiola-Rivera to engage with emergent as well as historical assemblages organised by machinic modes of vision and control. These adapted regimes of industrialised seeing bring science and technology into new functional ensembles that re-order space, inaugurating the algorithmic production of a new political and legal subject.


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The Last Pictures | Trevor Paglen

“In 1963 NASA launched the first communications satellite “Syncom 2” into a geosynchronous orbit over the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, humans have slowly and methodically added to this space-based communications infrastructure. Currently, more than 800 spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit form a man-made ring of satellites around Earth at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres. Most of these spacecraft powered down long ago, yet continue to float aimlessly around the planet. Geostationary satellites are so far from earth that their orbits never decay. The dead spacecraft in orbit have become a permanent fixture around Earth, not unlike the rings of Saturn. They will be the longest-lasting artefacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet’s surface.” 

Trevor Paglen’s research project “The Last Pictures” was launched aboard the Echostar XVI satellite in September. Long after life on earth has perished, the floating debris of communications satellites will continue to orbit – humanity’s final legacy and endowment to the future. Conceived as a response both to the Voyager 1 & 2 golden records sent into the slipstream of the universe as an interstellar greeting in 1977 (by NASA under the direction of Carl Sagan) and the attempts to develop fixed semiotic systems around the storage of nuclear waste 25,000 years into the future (WIPP), Paglen’s project also engages with the problematic of how to communicate into the far-distant future. But unlike these projects in which solving the problem of futuric speech organised the structure and response of their work, the technological ruins of floating space debris is the material instantiation of the problem and the very means by which our final speech acts will be encoded.


Trevor Paglen’s work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us. Paglen’s visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions.

His art and writing have appeared in major publications including The New York Times, Wired, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Modern Painters, Aperture, and Artforum. He has appeared on The Colbert Report, The History Channel, Coast to Coast AM, Authors at Google, and C-Span Book TV.

Paglen has received grants and awards from the Smithsonian, Art Matters, Artadia, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the LUMA foundation, the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, and the Aperture Foundation. Paglen holds a B.A. from UC Berkeley, an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley, where he remains an affiliated researcher.

Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York. 

In 2011-2012, Paglen is an artist-in-residence at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


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History as Social Fiction | Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera will present research drawn from his forthcoming book on the fall of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, focusing on three points: history-making (as related to ontological constructivism and future-making skills), the curious way in which history is becoming social fiction or a public secret, and the human-machine interaction as illustrated by the case of Project Cybersyn, a radical computer-social construction experiment on machinic vision and history-making that took place in 1970s Chile.


Oscar Guardiola-Rivera joined Birkbeck in 2005. He is now Assistant Dean of the School of Law, and collaborates with the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. He is the writer of the award-winning What If Latin America Ruled the World? (Bloomsbury, 2010), chosen as one the best non-fiction books that year by The Financial Times and reviewed in The Washington Post, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, BBC Radio 4 Start the Week, with Andrew Marr, Al-Jazeera’s The Riz Khan Show, Folha de Sao Paulo, and other major newspapers and media around the world. He has published in Granta, is a weekly columnist of El Espectador (COL), and a frequent contributor to the BBC World Service Nightwaves, The Stream, Monocle Radio 24, NTN 24, and Al-Jazeera, among others. He has been invited to take part in the Hay Festivals (Wales, Colombia, Lebanon and Mexico), and contributed as a curator and a speaker with the Serpentine Gallery, Southbank Centre, Intelligence Squared, Tate Modern, Pen International, and Colombiage. Born in Colombia, he was educated in that country and in Great Britain. He graduated as a lawyer in Bogotá (Universidad Javeriana, 1993) after leading the Student Movement that initiated the 1990’s wave of constitutional reform throughout Latin America, and obtained his LLM with Distinction at University College London, and his PhD in Philosophy at the King’s College of the University of Aberdeen. He is on the editorial boards of Naked Punch: An Engaged Review of Arts & Theory; International Law. Colombian Journal of International Law; Universitas. Xavier University Law Review, (COL); and Open Law Journal and is on the advisory board of the Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal, and is recognised as one of the most representative voices of contemporary Latin American philosophy and literature.


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Thursday 25 October 2012  5:00-7:00 pm / Visual Cultures Forum
 Trevor Paglen, “The Last Pictures”

Friday October 26 10:30-6:30 pm / Centre for Research Architecture
• 10:30-12:30 Oscar Guardiola-Rivera “History as Social Fiction: Salvador Allende & Project Cybersyn”
• 12:30-1:30 Open discussion
• 2:30-4:00 Trevor Paglen, “Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes”
• Lawrence Abu Hamdan / Emanuel Licha (respondents-15 mins.)
• Open discussion

Saturday October 27 11:00-5:00 / Centre for Research Architecture
(PhD candidates’ presentations)
• Emanuel Licha
• Lawrence Abu Hamdan