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Let us talk about your Last Pictures project, which is set against the backdrop of cosmic time and space. There is a quote from it where you’re talking about the Anthropocene: ‘The Anthropocene is a period of temporal contradictions, a period in which Marx’s space-time annihilation chafes against the deep time of the earth.’

For me, Last Pictures is a project about how social and political relationships become fixed temporally – even inscribed into the earth itself for potentially millions of billions of years. For instance, the rise of industrial capitalism meant rearranging the chemical composition of the atmosphere through burning coal. The effects of that environmental alteration will play out over hundreds of thousands of years. But the human ability to have an ethical relationship to the interventions we make on the planet is constrained by the length of our lifetime, or what we can imagine the limit to a family might be. It could also be the temporal constraints built into an economic or political system, such as term limits or capitalist turnover cycles. What we think of as banal ways of organizing time have put profound constraints on how we act conscientiously. Climate change is a perfect example of this. Political institutions are not up to the task of being able to deal with it, because there is very little to be gained by working on a project that might only be realized 20 years from now. With the current political cycles, you’d have to give something up. You pay a price for something you will never benefit from. The time scales humans are intervening on are out of sync with the time scales we are organizing our societies from. We are not even able to imagine the time scales we are interfering with. We produce something like nuclear waste that basically marks a place on the Earth as a place of death hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Humans haven’t even been around for hundreds of thousands of years, right, so what is that?

So Last Pictures was about presenting this contradiction. And this is a topic a lot of people have been thinking about lately, but that’s a contradiction in itself because by nature it is impossible to think through. With Last Pictures, you can only have notional points of entry of trying to grasp these kinds of questions. It was a really intense process for us. I actually think we ended up in a really weird place at the end of it, like the exact opposite of where I expected to go…

Trevor Paglen in our new issue mono.kultur #44

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