Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3), 2013, is a 4-meter tall model for an orbital spacecraft. This work appropriates technologies normally associated with militarism and surveillance, asking them to do the opposite of their normal functions.
Developed in conversation with aerospace engineers, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 3) is a sculpture designed to be placed into low-earth orbit and reflect sunlight from space down to the earth’s surface. Once launched it would appear as a bright point of light slowly moving across the sky over several months, before burning up in the atmosphere. This spacecraft-cum-art object combines maximum reflectivity with minimum weight, taking the shape of a giant mirror-like sphere.
In this work Paglen asks what aerospace engineering would look like if its methods were decoupled from the corporate and military interests underlying the industry. His nonfunctional satellite recasts the old question of “art for art’s sake” within a different field, asking whether we can imagine something like “aerospace engineering for aerospace engineering’s sake.” In doing so, the spacecraft functions as both a critique of the militarization and commercialization of the night sky, and a way to imagine how things could be different.

Mari Spirito


Trevor Paglen‘s work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us.
Paglen’s visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the 2009 Istanbul Biennial; the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions.
He is the author of five books and numerous articles on subjects including experimental geography, state secrecy, military symbology, photography, and visuality. His most recent book, The Last Pictures is a meditation on the intersections of deep-time, politics, and art.
Paglen has received grants and awards from the Smithsonian, Art Matters, Artadia, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the LUMA foundation, the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, and the Aperture Foundation.
Paglen holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from U.C. Berkeley.
Trevor Paglen lives and works in New York.