Trevor Paglen developed his project, “The Last Pictures,” through years of research and consultation with leading philosophers, scientists, engineers, artists and historians and through a residency sponsored by the Visiting Artist Program at MIT. The project originates from the idea that the communications satellites in Earth’s orbit will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. These geostationary satellites, located above the equator at an altitude of 24,000 miles, experience no atmospheric drag, and will remain in orbit until our sun expands into a red giant and engulfs the earth about 4.5 billion years from now. The Last Pictures imagines a future Earth where there is no evidence of human civilization beyond the derelict spacecraft left behind in our planet’s orbit.
At MIT, Paglen sought out researchers Professor Karl. K. Berggren of the MIT Research Lab for Electronics, Associate Professor Brian L. Wardle from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and graduate student Adam McCaughan from the Quantum Nanostructure and Nanofabrication Group to fabricate the lightweight, encodable, ultra-durable silicon wafer etched using specialized equipment in the Quantum Nanostructure and Nanofabrication lab at MIT.