TREVOR PAGLEN, “WEIL” (EVEN THE DEAD ARE NOT SAFE) EIGENFACE, Dye sublimation metal print, 2017. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2017.6.51.
Conceptual artist, geographer, and journalist Trevor Paglen, received his B.A. (1998) from the University of California at Berkeley, an M.F.A. (2002) from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. (2008) in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley. His work has been a part of solo and group exhibitions at several national and international venues, and in 2017 he was awarded a prestigious McArthur Foundation Fellowship. He now divides his time between Berlin, New York, and Berkeley, California.
Through his diverse practice, he hopes to understand and record the historic moment, often asking the simple but significant question “how do you see the world around you?” A Study of Invisible Images, his new body of work of which this piece is a part of, however, considers how people are seen through machine vision and sensing technology. The world of images, once dominated by human observing image, has drastically shifted to mainly machines viewing images produced by machines. For example, the navigation images of self-driving cars, the automated images of license plates from police cars, and the facial recognition software in commercial spaces are all machine-generated images read, analyzed, and recorded by other machines. Therefore, most produced and circulated images in the world exist in technology and remain invisible to most people, bringing new meaning to the phrase “out of sight out of mind.”
Face prints made with Eigenface technology are images that machines make and utilize for themselves to process other images. Very rarely are they seen by people, and through this work, Paglen not only makes this image visible in a very human way, but he also emphasizes the need to better understand machine vision. Here, viewers contemplate the impact of machine vision in our present and future lives.