Trevor Paglen

Blank Spots on a Map: State Secrecy and the Geography of Nowhere

Date 9/17/07

Affiliation Artist and Geographer, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA


Geographer and artist Trevor Paglen takes us on a road trip through the world of hidden budgets, state secrets, covert military bases, and disappeared people: through a landscape that military and intelligence insiders call the "black world." Over the course of his talk, Paglen leads us from "non-existent" Air Force and CIA installations in the Nevada desert to secret prisons in Afghanistan and to a collection of even more obscure "black sites" startlingly close to home. Using hundreds of images he has produced and collected over the course of his work, Paglen shows how the black world's internal contradictions give rise to a peculiar visual, aesthetic, and epistemological grammar with which to think about the contemporary moment.


Trevor Paglen is an artist, writer, and experimental geographer working out of the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. His work involves deliberately blurring the lines between social science, contemporary art, and a host of even more obscure disciplines in order to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to interpret the world around us. His most recent projects involve close examinations of state secrecy, the California prison system, and the CIA's practice of "extraordinary rendition".

Paglen's visual work has been shown in galleries and museums including MASSMOCA (2006), the Warhol Museum (2007), Diverse Works (2005), in journals and magazines from Wired to The New York Review of Books, and at numerous other arts venues, universities, conferences, and public spaces. He has had one-person shows at Deadtech (2001), the LAB (2005), and Bellwether Gallery (2006). Artforum called Paglen's visual work "as emblematic of our era as that of the naked Vietnamese girl scorched by napalm was of its." The New York Times called it "the real thing... and not on the evening news."

Paglen's first book, Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights (co-authored with AC Thompson; Melville House, 2006) was the first book to systematically describe the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program. His second book, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me (Melville House, 2007) an examination of the visual culture of "black" military programs, will be published in November 2007. He is currently completing his third book, entitled Blank Spots on a Map, which will be published by Dutton/NAL/Penguin in late 2008/early 2009.

Paglen has received grants and commissions from, the LEF Foundation, and the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology. In 2005, he was a Vectors Journal Fellow at the University of Southern California.

Paglen holds a BA from UC Berkeley, an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently completing a PhD in the Department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley.

-- As of 9/17/07