The world’s gonna end one day. You know that, right? Most likely…assuming we don’t do anything really stupid between now and then…it will come to a natural death as our sun expands and eats it as one last snack before going nova. Long before then, any descendants of ours will have died out, with only cockroaches, leftover fruit cakes and way too many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey to serve as evidence of anything ever happening on this little pebble.
Prior to any of that going down, author and artist Trevor Paglen has decided that some other, perhaps more interesting record of humanity’s time on planet Earth be made available for future visitors. To that end, he has amassed a selection of 100 photographs providing a digital scrapbook of our modern civilization. Working with scientists at MIT, Paglen developed an archival disc created specifically to survive for millions–perhaps billions–of years, upon which will be etched the images he’s selected. Once sealed in its protective shell, the disc will then be mounted to the Echostar XVI communications satellite that is set to be launched later this year, and assume a geosynchronous orbit along the equator over North America. The idea is that since such satellites can theoretically remain in uninterrupted orbit forever, somebody may well come along at some point in the distant future and find the satellite and the disc. And maybe a fruit cake.
“Hey!” I hear someone saying. “What about the pictures on the disc? I wanna see!”
Paglen’s got your back, yo:
The Last Pictures is a book collecting the 100 photos, and is currently available for those of you who don’t wish to wait for The End to get a sneak peek. From the “curatorial statement” on the project’s website:
“In selecting the one hundred images for the project, Paglen consulted with dozens of scientists, artists, philosophers, mathematicians, and geologists and formed an in-depth research team that explored the implications of the project along numerous philosophical lines of inquiry. Conversations surrounding The Last Pictures delved into a variety of themes ranging from the problematics of universality to questions surrounding post-colonialism, theoretical mathematics, and the detrimental capacities of human technology. One line of thought that comes across quite clearly in the image selection relates to the finitude of humanity itself: if you could choose an image that explained to people millions of years from now why humans were no longer on the planet, what would it be? Another line of inquiry considers the paradox of communicating over such a vast amount of time: what does it means to show images to future beings that will most likely not comprehend them in anticipated ways?”
So, it was his aim to somehow explain to someone who might show up millions of years from now just who we were and what we were about before we all disappeared…like dust in the wind, dude…and to do so in something resembling a universal means of communication. By crafting a message which might not be examined for billions of years–if ever–we also get a stark reminder as to just how insignificant we are, and how fleeting our existence truly is.
For whatever reason, this fascinates the hell out of me.
The available excerpt on the site offers only a few of the selected images, but I’m so intrigued by this project that I’ve gone and ordered the book. Hey, I’d like to get an idea about what they’ll be talking about and what they might be saying about us in fifty or sixty thousand millenia, all right? Also, it’s a good thing that someone with the intellect, knowledge and artistic expertise such as Dr. Paglen possesses is behind this project. If they’d left it to some bonehead like me, the last picture in the slide show would probably have been this:
Anybody else know about this? Order a copy of the book? For those who may have seen the entire photo collection: any thoughts on the pictures he selected? Any ideas on pics which should’ve made the cut, but didn’t?