Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Code Names of the Surveillance State

Trevor Paglen presents “Code Names of the Surveillance State,” a video installation in Metro Pictures’ upstairs gallery composed from more than 4,000 National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) surveillance program code names. Projected onto four walls as an endlessly scrolling series of columns, the code names are deliberately nonsensical, often droll and sardonic words or short phrases without discernable connection to the programs they designate. “Bacon Ridge” is an NSA installation in Texas, “Fox Acid” an NSA-controlled Internet server designed to inject malware into unsuspecting web browsers, and “Mystic” a program to collect every phone call from the Bahamas.

Paglen’s works are not explanatory documents of his subjects; instead, they are revealing and eerie evidence of the US government’s vast secret surveillance apparatus. His installation is as enigmatic and seductive as is his photographs of drones, black op programs, spy satellites and military “black sites.” Within the installation the code names are subtly suggestive of the clandestine programs they represent, just as Paglen’s photographs, shot from great distance using specially devised photographic equipment, reveal isolated facilities and distant objects in the sky as untethered and dreamlike aberrations.

If you’re in New York City and you don’t go see this — it’s on until December 20 — I will be deeply saddened. This looks incredible. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I had more time to devote to art making.