Some 43 years ago this month, an art-loving (and still anonymous) Grumman engineer smuggled a ceramic wafer imprinted with sketches by artists such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Rauschenberg onto the Apollo 12 lunar landing mission. Today Trevor Paglen adds to that fledging extraterrestrial museum with “The Last Pictures,” a public project presented by Creative Time. The artist worked with materials scientists at MIT to develop his visual time capsule: a silicon disc encased in gold and micro-etched with 100 photographs selected to represent modern human history. The disc has been affixed to the exterior of the communications satellite EchoStar XVI, which launches into orbit today from Kazakhstan. Watch it live here at 1:15 p.m. EST.
Among the images that made it onto the disc is a shot of “Glimpses of the U.S.A.,” the installation designed by Charles and Ray Eames (at the request of George Nelson) for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. Team Eames compiled some 2,200 still and moving images of American life that flickered across seven massive screens under one of Bucky Fuller‘s geodesic domes. Does your head hurt yet? Mission accomplished! Paglen set out to create “a meta-gesture about the failure of meta-gestures, a collection of images that spoke to the Janus-faced nature of modernity, a story that was not about who the people were who built the dead satellites in perpetual orbit so much as a story about what they did to themselves,” he told Creative Time curator Nato Thompson in an interview. While aliens may be stumped by photos of gear used to make atomic bombs or of refugee children frolicking in the sea, you can feel superior by purchasing The Last Pictures (University of California Press). Notes Paglen, “The book contains explanatory captions and texts about the images that tell the viewer what they’re looking at; the disc in orbit does not.”