Kenyon College

Dead Military Satellite (DMSP 5D-F11) Near the Disk of the Moon


Trevor Paglen
(American b. 1974)

Dead Military Satellite (DMSP 5D-F11) Near the Disk of the Moon, 2010.
24 x 30 inches.

At first glance, Dead Military Satellite (DMSP 5D-F11) Near the Disk of the Moon, appears to be a somewhat ordinary image. The cosmic landscape, featuring a bright crescent moon against a black empty sky, is likely familiar to any viewers who has seen the cover of an astronomical journal or visited the NASA website. However, Paglen’s scientific title provides the viewer with more information and demands a closer inspection of the composition. Although the moon fills the majority of the frame, it fades into the background once the viewer catches sight of the real subject: the miniscule glimmer of light in the upper center of the piece. This speck is a military satellite fixed in geostationary orbit, an atmospheric level at which gravity will neither pull it back down to Earth nor allow it to drift off. Essentially, this satellite, although dead and serving no real purpose, will continue to circle the planet far into the future, long outlasting any other trace of humanity. Knowing this information, the eerie image provides an opportunity for reflecting on the human legacy as it relates to our current military technologies and surveillance infrastructures. The satellite, presumably once used to monitor government adversaries and communicate classified war tactics, will survive the destruction of all of the art, architecture, and cultural elements with which we so closely identify.

In another attempt to further explore the idea of the enduring human legacy, Paglen began work on a project titled “The Last Pictures” for which he carefully chose 100 images of natural and cultural elements that he thought best described and summarized the human condition. He had these etched onto a small silicon disk that will withstand billions of years in the upper atmosphere, and attached that disk to a communications satellite, much like the one pictured here, to be launched into geostationary orbit for some future life form to find far after we are gone. In this way he was able to make use of the lasting nature of our technological trash as a vehicle for passing along a more comprehensive, humanized legacy.

Phoebe Pohl `18