An artist launches an indelible portrait of civilization into orbit
In 1971, Conceptual artist Douglas Huebler announced his intention to “photographically document . . . the existence of everyone alive, in order to produce the most authentic and inclusive representation of the human species that may be assembled.” His Variable Piece #70 was, unsurprisingly, never completed, but Huebler’s comprehensive cataloguing impulse is telling: It speaks of a desire to map the contours of civilization, to capture and behold the mass of humanity. What do we, collectively, look like? And how do we depict ourselves to ourselves?
Artist and geographer Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures takes up these questions from a perspective very different from Huebler’s, seeing in them a way to explore the difficulty of representation and the illegibility of images across “deep time.” Propelling these
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