1. simon leung said:

    When I curated The Look of Law, I took an ecumenical approach to including art works that to my mind constitute examples of the effect of the representation of the state–actual or imaginary–has on the psyche. What I was most interested in Paglen’s work was how the viewer might feel when confronted not so much with the depiction of “secret” sites of extraordinary rendition, but with the presentation of something that is enunciating itself AS a secret. In other words, what are we to do with a lens that does not so much depict as corrodes from within? (“These are black sites?” is not so far from “Are these black sites?”) The questions I had were about the erotics of the secret, in what is the sense of sovereign enjoyment when one *feels* included, let into the fraternity; and more importantly, in thinking about the secret not as information that can be revealed or depicted, but as a fetish in and of itself. In this sense, this interrogation cannot be separated from how this image came to you, from the facilitation of the secret and the fetishist himself.

    Pace Paglen’s claims on the Intercept site about his NSA photos (that if we can see the NSA we can start making demands on it), I am not convinced about a claim that art “gives” agency to the viewer in general. In this case, since the photographs enunciate from such a specific position of Paglen’s aesthetic and “expertise” in the military/intelligence complex, to my eyes, what the photographs provokes is reflection on an art apparatus that secures Paglen’s author function (many of the comments that challenge the claim that these are the first time these buildings are depicted include links to the contrary).

    Your point about how there is, structurally (and literally), a lens that places the viewer in an indentificatory alignment with power, masculinity, and technology is an important critique. I suspect Paglen might not dispute this. Your critique, I imagine, might be met (has been met?) with obliviousness to why that’s a problem. (I say this provisionally, but this is a fact-checkable bit of information: I remember when I did the studio visit with him in 2006 he said he’s able to do what he does because he knows and is comfortable around “these guys” because he “grew up around them”–by which he means those in the governmental agencies he “exposes.”) I don’t look to Trevor Paglen, the way I might to Julia Scher, Mary Kelly, or yourself, perhaps, for a critique of masculinist militarism exactly because he’s swimming in it. It’s like that joke about asking a fish “how’s the water?” The fish would respond, sincerely, “what’s water?” And yes, that’s a problem, but a fish feels entitled to water. That privileged sense of facility is the open secret of transparency. And that, too, is the look of law.

    Simon Leung


  2. Your interest in the viewer’s reaction to work that enunciates itself as a presentation of “secrets” is very interesting, Simon – not least because it’s often the case that when the secretive aspect of a government activity is foregrounded in an exposure, the expected or anticipated reaction can veil the more significant dynamics at play in the relationship of subject to government. I think it was Baudrillard’s reaction to Watergate that the most outrageous aspect wasn’t that the US government had lied, but that Americans were shocked that their leaders had lied.
    I think the question of identification in art is always complex, as it is in life. Your choice of the word “alignment” in this regard is important. Psychical identifications of some kind will invariably be created through images, and I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of identification playing a role in the creation of a critical relation to power, masculinity, and technology through images. But identification can be both created and disturbed in the same work. I’m not sure I can find that in this project.


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