In late 2012 a communications satellite called EchoStar XVI launched into space from Kazakhstan where it remains in a geostationary orbit around Earth. The satellite contains artist and geographer Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures, a collection of one hundred images, sourced from libraries and artists, microetched onto a gold-plated disc. Paglen’s project is both a continuation of, and a critical response to, the notion of the time capsule as a means of delivering, either to a terrestrial future or to some extraterrestrial destination, an abbreviated representative sample of “civilization.” The utopianism that motivates many time-capsule projects, whether it is articulated through a belief in the power to communicate with a distant future or with some cosmically remote intelligence, is also a manifestation, this article argues, of progressive modernity’s commitment to timekeeping—to the successful capture and command, interpretation and anticipation, of past and future times. Paglen’s project is considered here as a retort to the repressions and exclusions that underwrite the optimism of the conventional capsule; The Last Pictures is the futureless call of the Anthropocene.

You do not currently have access to this content.