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From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist is an artist book that features new photographs and text by Trevor Paglen centered on the archive of Peter Merlin—a historian, technical writer, and leading expert on classified aircraft. Guided by the idea that “something always remains,” Merlin, a former NASA archivist, has amassed a vast collection of flight wreckage, dossiers, and memorabilia—objects that are sometimes the only remnants of covert government operations. Merlin’s collection is primarily focused on military bases such as Area 51 and the Edwards Air Force Base, as well as the surrounding crash sites of experimental government aircraft.
In From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist, Paglen has selected fifty-nine objects from Merlin’s collection that range from the sinister to the mundane to the humorous. His stark photographs of these symbol-laden challenge coins, patches, models, and other objects build on his long-standing interest in the culture of secrecy while providing a fragmentary peek into decades of elusive military missions. The book continues Paglen’s ongoing work with experimental geography, state secrecy, and military symbology in exhibitions and book form.
Trevor Paglen (b. 1974) lives and works in Berlin and New York. His work spans photography, sculpture, investigative journalism, writing, and engineering; has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian, Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and Vienna Secession; and has been featured in group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Modern. He has launched an artwork into orbit around Earth in collaboration with Creative Time and MIT and contributed research and cinematography to the film Citizenfour. He is the author of five books.