Garden of evil: Trevor Paglen’s sinister digital paradise puts you in the picture

Pace Gallery, London and online
The artist’s AI images of nature are not what they seem – and they aren’t the only things being watched in this mind-boggling show about surveillance

Is Trevor Paglen a hyper-suspicious activist exposing the state? Or is he an artist who has found that adopting such a stance helps him reveal things about how we live now? It’s hard to tell. Previously, he has photographed secret military installations in the desert and taken long-exposure pictures of the night sky that at first glance look like astronomy, but in reality record the paths of satellites watching our every move. That was before Covid-19, which seems to have driven Paglen to new depths of paranoid introspection, responding with the blackest of humour in an exhibition that may not even be an exhibition but a lure to catch the unwary in his sinister web.

The white walls and partitions of the gallery are hung with what look like artworks. Big photographs of flowers and woodlands bring the outdoors into this city interior. Paglen appears to have turned to nature for solace during lockdown. Like David Hockney and Nan Goldin, who have produced lockdown images of trees and flowers, he has wandered in pastoral meadows to relieve the stress – or so it seems. Except these meadows are unreal. They were produced using artificial intelligence. The harder you look, the less soothing they are. The colours are hyper-intense yet unseasonal. The leaves and petals are brittle, even plasticky.

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