Trevor Paglen. Image courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Trevor Paglen. Image courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Trevor Paglen on Unquestioning Love

The artist describes his own experience of the AIDS crisis and the work he has contributed to the NYC AIDS Memorial Auction at Christie’s

For Trevor Paglen, an abuse of power comes as no surprise. His work explores state control, and how politics maps onto our environment. The artist received his PhD from Berkeley’s Department of Geography, just a 20 minute drive from San Francisco General Hospital, where the USA’s first AIDS ward was established, and he went on to live in lower Manhattan, close to the site of St. Vincent's, home to the first AIDS facility on the East Coast.

While his work tends to focus on the way technology facilitates a misuse of power, Paglen (who is now in his forties) can recall the fear, hatred and recrimination that surrounded the AIDS crisis of the late 20th century, and so was more than willing to contribute a work to Unquestioning Love, a high-profile auction featuring a truly incredible selection of contemporary art, at Christie’s this week to benefit the New York City AIDS Memorial.

Ahead of the sale, which takes place on 9 and 12 November, at Christie’s in New York, Paglen shares his thoughts on the work he has contributed, and his solidarity with the cause it benefits.

TREVOR PAGLEN – Discarded Rocket Body Approaching the Disk of the Moon (SL-8 R/B)
TREVOR PAGLEN – Discarded Rocket Body Approaching the Disk of the Moon (SL-8 R/B)

Can you tell us a little bit about the artwork you donated to Unquestioning Love? This image is of a discarded rocket body from a classified Russian satellite that was launched on May 7, 1968. The rocket body in this image lifted a satellite called Cosmos 220 into orbit. The satellite was used to assist in the navigation of Soviet nuclear submarines and direct nuclear missiles launched from them. For all of human history, people have looked towards the night sky in an attempt to understand the past and to divine the future. My images of the night sky are inspired by these long histories of looking at the sky, and the different interpretations of celestial phenomena throughout the ages.

Do you have an experience or memory associated with the AIDS epidemic? The AIDS epidemic affected every person in the art world, as an entire generation was lost not only to the disease but to a government that steadfastly refused to help. The artists that mentored me were all of that generation and instilled in me the sense that being an artist came with huge responsibilities to try and effect positive change.

New York City AIDS Memorial
An image from the Unquestioning Love auction site. The image behind the text is a detail from Flower, 1987, by Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the lots in this sale

What motivates you to donate your art to a charitable endeavor such as this? I think that all people and especially artists should recognize and play a part in memorializing the AIDS crisis, which has affected our community so much.

Have you ever visited the AIDS memorial? If so, what effect did it have on you? When I lived on 14th Street, the memorial was an everyday part of my life. The piece, and especially Jenny Holzer's intervention are extremely powerful.

The memorial features a plaza engraved with sections from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself - chosen by Jenny Holzer. Is there a poem, song or work of art that brings to mind the crisis for you personally? There are simply too many to name, but Derek Jarman's "Blue" is a piece that I've gone back to over and over in my life.

To see further works by Trevor Paglen go here; for more information on Unquestioning Love go here