GD:NIP #2: Trevor Paglen: Symbology
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GD:NIP #2: Trevor Paglen: Symbology

Case study #2 from Graphic Design: Now in Production


Symbology: Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen is an artist who employs the investigative tools of journalism and social science. To create his 2006 project Symbology (Volume I), Paglen collected embroidered patches from the “black world” of classified military and intelligence units. Although the activities and even the existence of such programs are closely guarded secrets, members of this covert world nonetheless seek to express their group identities. Their underworld patches emulate the established language of the military, where symbols and insignia have long expressed a warrior’s rank, achievements, and affiliations. An ominous sense of humor pervades these unofficial insignia, which include anything from a satin-stitched alien head to the warning “Don’t ask! NOYFB.” Paglen is the author of several books about the culture of national security, including I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World (2008). —Ellen Lupton

…appears on page 204 of the catalogue.

Above: I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World (Cover)

Detail of badges from top-left clockwise:

1) II

2) Special Projects: “Semper en Obscurus”

3) Project Zipper: “We Make Threats Not Promises”

4) Red Hats: “More With Less.”


On the same page, some interesting background on military symbology courtesy of Andrew Blauvelt:

United States Army Institute of Heraldry
Located at Fort Belvoir, a military installation in Washington, DC, the United States Army Institute of Heraldry provides heraldic services to branches of the armed forces and other governmental entities. The Institute undertakes various activities, such as research, design, development, standardization, presentation, and recording of official symbolic iconography, including flags, medals, badges, insignia, decorations, and seals. Although the US military has been using and issuing insignia and other forms of heraldry since the American Revolution, the roots of official governance can be traced to 1919 when a special office within the Department of War was formed to handle such issues. Public Law 85-263 in 1957 further delineated the authority of the Secretary of the Army to provide heraldic services to the military and other federal entities. —AB



In the gallery…

…badges such as

1) NKAWTG…Nobody  [“Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tank Gas”]

2) To Serve Man–509: “Gustatus Similis Pullus” [Tastes Like Chicken]

are displayed alongside

B-12–“The Cat’s Out of the Bag,” which, according to Paglen, is a patch from satellite launch USA 144


Indeed. The cat IS out of the bag.

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