Trevor Paglen – The Octopus
First Floor

Trevor Paglen: The Octopus

Through his work, Trevor Paglen seeks possible metaphors for ubiquitous mass surveillance and data collection and the systems of power connected to these activities. His projects focus in particular on the infrastructure of the United States’ surveillance activities, the so-called ‘black world‘ hidden from public view. Using advanced technology and models for gaining collective knowledge, Paglen is able to photograph remote restricted military areas, the secret flight paths of reconnaissance satellites and drones and the topography of transoceanic fiber optic cable networks. Traces of the repercussions of government-mandated control and military surveillance unfailingly remain inscribed in his photographs. Their production thus becomes a political project with aesthetic consequences. Paglen’s work is preceded by broad-based research in collaboration with scientists, amateur astronomers, computer scientists and human rights activists, whose documentation Paglen shows in his comprehensive exhibition for the first time.


They Watch the Moon (2010)

The photograph “They Watch the Moon” was taken by moonlight in the forests of West Virginia using a long time exposure. A communications intercept station is located there that benefits from the so-called ‘moonbounce’ phenomenon. The station intercepts communications and telemetry signals from all over the world that escape into outer space and are reflected from the moon back to earth. For this purpose, a National Radio Quiet Zone of 34,000 square kilometers has been established, within which radio broadcasts and Internet connections have been almost completely prohibited.


USA 193 Near Alioth (Code Name Unknown) Next-Generation Reconnaissance Satellite Shot Down by Navy in February 2008 (2007)

KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaissance Satellite; USA 186) (2008)

KEYHOLE 12-3 (IMPROVED CRYSTAL) Optical Reconnaissance Satellite Near Scorpio (USA 129) (2007)

The project “The Other Night Sky” makes classified American satellites visible through the use of telescopes and large format cameras. At the work’s core lie observational data collected by an international network of amateur satellite observers and used to calculate the satellites’ positions and the timing of their orbits in the sky. Through its appeal to a specialized and critical formation of civil society, the project utilizes the power of collective research.


NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, Norden, Germany (2015)

NSA-Tapped Fiber Optic Cable Landing Site, Mastic Beach, New York, United States (2015)

Paglen deals with the materiality of the Internet and the massive data monitoring occurring over its channels. While a metaphor like ‘cloud’ suggests that the Internet is a ubiquitous entity without place, it nonetheless requires a real and physical infrastructure. The photographs of coastlines point to the places where undersea cables connecting the European and American continents meet the mainland and are tapped by the NSA for the purpose of surveillance. Maritime maps visualize the locations of fiber optic cables to prevent ships from colliding with them. The works are supplemented by NSA documents from the archives of Edward Snowden, corporate documents and photography of the sites.