This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Paglen has spent the past few years collecting
evidence relating to the reality of secret military bases. The

US government has acknowledged their existence but not
their locations. The artist meticulously goes through public
military documents to uncover classified projects that are
assigned arcane names and a blank budget; he then travels to
secluded locations with instruments as powerful as those used
by astronomers to photograph military bases hidden in the
desert and buffered by dozens of miles of restricted land. He
also recently coauthored Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s
transmediale, Berlin’s annual festival for art and digital culture, Rendition Flights (2006), a book documenting the CIA practice
opened at the end of January. Although global warming was of using modified commercial aircraft to transport suspected
doing its best to mellow Berlin’s famously Siberian temperatures, terrorists (and circumvent human rights laws) to so-called ‘black
I was cold and I had the flu, but most of all I was starting to wonder sites’ for interrogation and maybe torture.
if I wasn’t growing too old and jaded for yet another media art This universe would sound entirely dire and (rightly)
event. Fortunately even the most disillusioned among us get worrying if Paglen and life itself were devoid of a dark sense of
lucky breaks. The last edition of Transmediale delivered one to humour. Like any member of the military, affiliates of the ‘Black
me, along with an exhibition that did not confuse new media World’ have to wear all sorts of patches and insignia that reveal
art with a circus of interactivity and electrogadgetry (finally!), a what they do and who they are. Symbology (2006–), the work
thought-provoking conference and a strong theme to wrap the Paglen exhibited at Transmediale, is a collection of authentic
festival in fashionably subversive attire: ‘conspire’. patches belonging to members of secret programmes. The
“Conspiracy is the ‘condition’ of our times,” says Stephen series provides a glimpse into how the military answer questions
, 2006–, 20 fabric patches. Photo: Jonathan Groeger. © the artist
Kovats, the artistic director of Transmediale. “Learning to harness that have historically been the purview of secret societies,
the mechanisms of conspiracy, or those of the conspiratorial act, religions and mystics: how does one represent that which must
also empowers us as creative individuals to better understand not be represented?
(detail)
the irrational culture of fear and security being imposed on us.” The icons and formulae stitched onto the military patches
Conspiracy theories are not just popular among are often as outlandish as the world they symbolise: ‘Gustatus
teenagers who postulate that bin Laden was an actor hired by Similis Pullus’ (Tastes Like Chicken); ‘Doing God’s Work with Symbology
the CIA, or among Beatles fans convinced that the real Paul Other People’s Money’, and – this one being perhaps the most
McCartney died in a car accident when he was twenty-four emblematic of a realm pervaded with conspiracy theories
and was subsequently replaced by a lookalike. Today, conspiracy – NOYFB (None of Your Fucking Business).
theories, whether verified or not, are spreading at an accelerating
Trevor Paglen,
pace, with help from the internet.
Transmediale was not only interested in deconstructing
the speculative mechanisms of conspiracy theories but also
aimed to go beyond their unflattering connotations and give a
platform to artists and activists who both challenge and embrace
the theme in their practice. The best example of this approach is
probably Trevor Paglen’s work.
Currently completing a PhD at the University of
California at Berkeley, Paglen works at the border between
art and research. His projects deliberately blur the boundaries
between social science, contemporary art and other more
obscure disciplines in order to investigate what military insiders
call ‘the Black World’: the world of classified programmes,
projects and places, whose outlines and even existence are
kept secret.
Mixed Media_Digital.indd 111 6/3/08 09:41:32
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