Archives for posts with tag: Eternity


I miss doing nothing. Or I miss the idea of doing nothing. I spend a lot of time thinking about which, and whether there’s a real difference, or an unreal difference, and that too takes up more time. I describe time as a resource. Unlike crude oil, corn and quartz, it is infinite, but spending too much time thinking about infinity has lost me years of my life since I was a child. Children rarely do nothing. Except maybe young girls. I see them sit quietly at restaurants with their parents. They’re coloring in a unicorn drawing. They’re quietly lost in their own sense of colouring. Maybe this is not exactly nothing but boys of the same age are like hyperactive protons, agitated energy, vectors unable to conceive of stillness. Boys adhere to Brownian motion. Parents writhe over the vexed question “When do we give our baby their first iPad?” Because new parents, maybe more than anyone, miss doing nothing the most. They crave it. They are in an endless jetlag of the body. It’s in their eyes. I miss doing nothing. I ask novelists if they read less novels than they used to, before 4G. Most say yes, their brains have changed. Forever. (The others are lying.) I know one person — a novelist — who refused to get a mobile phone of any kind. He was a modern day Walden. He enjoyed the detachment from digital obligations the moment he stepped out of his apartment into the city. He said it made him see and hear the birds and the trees more vividly. This delinking, he claimed, was a balm for his writing brain. He protected this like a dragon might protect a unicorn. Then he caved. We made him cave because we are bad people. And now he is just as addicted as the rest of us. He has either joined the world as it really is, or he has abandoned the other world of which he was one of the last remaining survivors. Part of me is relieved. The other part of me is sad. Purity, another voluntary victim. But this debate too can take up time, that diminished resource, which I literally have less of the more knowledge I gain. Perhaps wisdom is understanding time’s unknowability. And with this comes less time. To do more or to do less. To worry about doing more or not doing less. You see the quandary. The swamp. Which is why I spend more time missing doing nothing. I miss the blank alps of my mind, the thinned air of inactivity. Because more and more I am time, not in an eschatological sense, but, in essence. The neuroscientists can’t help me. They’re nascent. They referred me to the theologians. Who in turn said, seek the technologists. All the minutes waiting for Uber to arrive add up to some fraction of eternity, which I refuse to acknowledge except here, speaking to you. Time accelerates. It stretches. It vanishes. Collapses. All these metaphors. What if time is really just language? Language never freed us, according to most philosophers.

1.0     We are born into language.

1.1     And it is the case.

1.2     And that case is the world.

1.21   [ :/ ]

I watch other people swipe right on dating apps and I decide that I’d prefer a mechanical finger that would do the swiping for me… So I can use that extra time… To figure out why I’m afraid of swiping right… Why the gaze of a stranger whose name is a string of symbols in a language I don’t understand, why she fills me with the dread I have for the end of time itself, the kind theologians proscribe. This girl on my screen, she’s pretty, she’s from Bulgaria. She doesn’t miss doing nothing. She was born into a Brownian world where frat boys have turned technology into theology, demagogues have preyed upon the free time of crisis ridden boys, those agitated protons so close to exploding far away, or next to me, depending where I’m writing this and reading this. Bored people crave war. The sweet girl suspended in the downloadable app, she’s afraid to be a feminist and not be a feminist, she doesn’t know where she stands on pornography (subject/object). And this takes up so much of her thumb time she’s starting to think her spirit animal is a thumb. Her therapist tells her this, and Jung told her therapist, through red coloured notebooks and visions of eternal time. Returning time. Myths of return. Archetypes as emojis. I would like to follow Freud and Jung as they walked around the making of the modern world and I would do nothing. They would do nothing.

1.3     We did nothing.

1.4     We were always doing nothing.

1.41   Weren’t we?

1.5     [Battery dead symbol]


From The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist (Penguin, 2015)

Originally published in Ingrid Hora’s book, JOMOHOMO, 2016, designed by Åbäke.


Space, the final frontier? For artist, author, and “experimental geographer” Trevor Paglen, it’s just become home to his orbital project, The Last Pictures. Commissioned by New York’s Creative Time, Paglen has, courtesy of a television satellite called EchoStar XVI, sent 100 etched images to spin round the earth potentially for billions of years, or until the sun collapses. Shumon Basar asks Paglen about what it means to prepare for post-human time, the language of non-human communication and the ways we have represented ourselves, from the caves of Lascaux to Voyager, to ourselves in images.

SHUMON BASAR: So, Trevor, your Last Pictures are about to go into space. How does it feel after researching and preparing the project for so many years?

TREVOR PAGLEN: I’m in Kazakhstan right now and the launch is tonight. I’m amazed that this project has actually happened. Mostly I’m humbled by the amount of work so many people did to make The Last Pictures a reality. One of the most amazing things about this project is how many people from different fields, from anthropologists to aerospace engineers, dropped what they were doing to work non-stop nights and weekends to make it all happen.

SB: When it dawned on you that you would be sending something up that would be there for billions of years, what was your first instinctive idea?

TP: The Last Pictures imagines a distant or not-too-distant future where there are no humans left on earth and the spacecraft forming a ring around the planet are the longest-lasting traces of our presence. From the beginning of the project, it was going to be a meditation on the fact that we know full well how we are making the planet uninhabitable to ourselves, but are going ahead with it anyway. The project evolved into something more impressionistic than that, but I think that theme is still
very central.

SB: What changed?

TP: One of the main changes was the inclusion of images of people. For several years, I was convinced that there should be no images depicting human figures. The reasoning was that the project was in no way meant to be a “portrait of humanity” or anything like that. The Last Pictures was meant to tell a story about what humans did to the earth’s surface, biosphere, climate, and so on, not a grandiose representation of humankind. After looking at dozens of ideas for the collection that had no humans, I realised that no matter what you show, if you don’t include images of humans you end up with something that looks like a very clichéd apocalyptic narrative. But the decision to include humans then came with a different “rule”, which was that I wanted to locate the people depicted in each image and tell something about their specific story. Those stories are collected in the book.

SB: Carl Sagan’s Golden Record of 1974 is still careering beyond our solar system as part of Voyager’s epic voyage. Do you remember when you first heard of, or saw, this enigmatic object, and what it said to
you then?

TP: I don’t remember when I first heard about the Golden Record, but I’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying it and learning about their decision-making process. Before I really started looking closely at it, I thought the Golden Record was a saccharine piece of feel-good multiculturalism, which it is. But as I’ve looked at it more and more, I’ve come to see it as an extremely strange artefact. They had very sincere ambitions to represent specific things about humanity to an alien
audience. But images don’t make scientific or even reasonable arguments. I think there’s a lot to learn about how images do and do not function by looking at the Golden
Record’s contents.

SB: One hundred black and white images constitute The Last Pictures. Can you describe some of the categories you have ended up with, and if they portray life on earth optimistically or not?

TP: There isn’t really any effort to portray life on earth, so much as to look at some of the ways that humans have transformed what the earth itself is. Some images depict things like genetic engineering (a fruit fly that’s been genetically modified to have legs on its face instead of antennae; cloned cows), transformations to the earth’s surface (hydraulic mining, railroads), and climate change (melting glaciers, tsunamis). But the collection as a whole is much more impressionistic, I think.

SB: You have said that the cave paintings at Lascaux were crucial in the development of your own “cave paintings for the future”. In what way?

TP: My research team and I always understood that The Last Pictures would be a cultural object radically detached from history. We spent a lot of time looking at messages or images created for the distant future, like the Golden Record and various design proposals to mark nuclear waste sites for thousands of years. The art historian/theorist Yates McKee really got me thinking about cave paintings, which are images from the distant past that have become similarly torn apart from history, floating through time in much the same way that The Last Pictures will. I think cave paintings teach us a lot about what images actually are. They are incredibly slippery things. A lot of people would strongly agree with the idea that cave paintings speak to us, but it’s not at all clear what they say.

SB: How much has cinema played a role in subconsciously influencing what you have done? By this I mean outer space is somewhere none of us have ever visited but space feels less strange to us than many places on Planet Earth.

TP: Cinema influenced The Last Pictures very explicitly. Towards the beginning of the project, we imagined the object as a kind of archive, but as we worked with the materials and images more, that evolved. I started to understand The Last Pictures as a kind of silent film for eternity. An
enormous amount of effort went in to the formal relationships and montage effects from one image to the next, the rhythm of the sequencing, and the motivic
and thematic relationships throughout
the collection.

SB: Recently, you described The Last Pictures as “a meta-gesture about the failure of meta-gestures”. Throughout the whole project, it seems that you have constantly battled with the absurdity – or even futility – of what you were trying to do. At which point did you make peace with yourself and what you were conjuring, with all these different people?

TP: I’m not sure I’ve actually ever made peace about that, to tell you the truth. I think that The Last Pictures is on one hand a deeply nonsensical project, and I mean that quite literally. The Last Pictures is going to a space and time where there literally is no human sense (outer space; the distant future). At the same time, I felt an enormous responsibility to do the project in the most ethical way I could. I think that contradiction is very fundamental to what the project is.

SB: Obama has made it clear that the
frontier of space is no longer a priority for debt-ridden America, the way it once was during the anxieties of the Cold War era. Now, that race seems to be run by China, India and any other wannabe economic powerhouse. Would it be fair to say that
s/he who owns space travel owns the future down here?

TP: I think that space travel is largely symbolic, bound up with notions of “progress” and the like. There’s really no point to human spaceflight other than its symbolism. It’s enormously expensive and humans can’t do anything in space that robots can’t do better. Although human spaceflight isn’t practical in any way, it makes perfect sense that nations like China and India are pursuing it for that symbolic significance. Having said that, dominance of space is hugely important to the American military, and you don’t see much talk about cuts to the largely secret programs that are consistent with that goal.

SB: Werner Herzog, that fearless explorer of the human soul, conducted a conversation with you in New York about your project. How did he react to The Last Pictures and did you manage to convince him?

TP: Herzog is a big fan of the project, which is why he came out to New York to kick-off the project with me. But he had some quibbles with some of the images I selected. One image shows a smiling child in an American internment camp. Herzog thought that was what he called a “cheap shot”. I disagree – for me it’s an utterly horrifying image precisely because it seems to depict the normalisation of something so inhuman. Every person who set out to do a project like this would arrive at something different, which is something we agreed on. There is no “right” way to undertake such
a project.

The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen, is published by University of California Press and Creative Time Books.