Trevor Paglen's new flag plays on our fear of spyware

Artist creates creepy flag named after the supposed CIA bug Wikileaks claimed is hiding in a Samsung television
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Weeping Angel (2018) by Trevor Paglen. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Image courtesy of Creative Time
Weeping Angel (2018) by Trevor Paglen. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Image courtesy of Creative Time

When the public arts body Creative Time commissioned a flag from Trevor Paglen, they knew they weren’t going to get a straightforward patch of cloth.

As Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson explains in our new book, “though he is best known as a photographer, Paglen’s work is nimbly cross-disciplinary. Indeed, much of his work tests the limits of conventions around medium; he blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines as he also crosses the thresholds between art, science, research and activism.”

 

Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen

Paglen’s flag, currently flying at Creative Time’s building on 59 East 4th Street and other arts institutions around the US, meets the terms of its brief. For its project Pledges of Allegiance, Creative Time commissioned sixteen flags from Paglen and other artists such as Jeremy Deller, Robert Longo, Yoko Ono and Ritkrit Tiravanija, all taking a broad theme of civil resistance.

“We realised we needed a space to resist that was defined not in opposition to a symbol, but in support of one, and so we created a permanent space,” said Creative Time's Artistic Director Nato Thompson. “The flag seemed an ideal form to build that space around both practically and symbolically.”

 

Detail from Weeping Angel (2018) by Trevor Paglen
Detail from Weeping Angel (2018) by Trevor Paglen

Paglen’s sombre submission, Weeping Angel, certainly fulfils this need. Though it resembles Gee Vaucher's famous Statue of Liberty artwork its title actually comes from both the name of a Doctor Who baddie, and also the name given to a supposed hacking tool alleged by Wikileaks to have been developed by the US and UK governments to spy on citizens via a particular model of Samsung smart TV.

However, the work goes beyond simple flag graphics. Encircling Paglen’s angel is a string of cryptographic code. The exact nature of the message is, of course, obscure. Creative Time is encouraging viewers to crack the code and direct-message them via Instagram with their solution to the puzzle. Though even if you can’t solve Weeping Angel, you can still appreciate the way this singular artist has extended the medium, to express the hidden, techy, wilfully obscure side to contemporary statecraft.

 

Trevor Paglen

For more unambiguous insight into this important contemporary artist, order a copy of our Trevor Paglen book here.

 


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