Q&A: Trevor Paglen

We speak to the shortlisted artists for the £40,000 Artes Mundi 8 prize

Trevor Paglen, They Watch The Moon, 2010, c-print. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Trevor Paglen is nominated for Artes Mundi 8 alongside Anna Boghiguian, Bouchra Khalili, Otobong Nkanga and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The biannual prize is awarded to international artists who ‘directly engage with everyday life through their practice and who explore contemporary social issues across the globe’, with the shortlist selected from over 450 nominations spanning 86 countries. An exhibition of the shortlist is now open at National Museum Cardiff and the winner will be announced 24 January. ArtReview is a media partner of Artes Mundi 8.

Artes Mundi is specifically interested in everyday life, what role do you see art playing in vernacular culture?

I think art plays a significant role in helping to direct our collective attention towards some of the most important questions of our moment in history. Art can help us see (literally) the complexities of the world around us and give us a glimpse into how things might be different. When I think about the civil rights movements, feminism or struggles for queer liberation, the art of people like Emory Douglas, Martha Rosler, Jenny Holzer, and Gran Fury are absolutely central. Those artists and many more have done so much to shape our understanding of the moment we live in and point toward a more just society.

What strategies should an artist take to escape the insularity of the gallery?

I don’t want to belittle the power of galleries and museums. They are places that we look to as guides to culture and are some of the very few places in society devoted to thinking about culture. Having said that, I think a lot of artists transcend the white walls of galleries and museums and are able to shape our collective perception by having fluid practices that move through public space in general.

In these intemperate times, should art seek to foster unity or to provoke opposition?

Both! The art I'm most attracted to has stakes.

What does being nominated for a prize mean to you? Do you find it problematic, or useful? Do you approach a prize exhibition differently to how you would any other show?

I'm really not a fan of the ‘reality show context’ format that some of these prize exhibitions take but am happy that they can bring attention to some of the most vibrant artists working today.

Online exclusive published on 17 January 2019