Trevor Paglen: CYCLOPS

A New "Speculative Reality Work" and Related Web3 Series

Published Thursday, March 23, 2023

Artist Trevor Paglen announces details of a multifaceted new project that includes a “speculative reality work”—comprising a mainframe computer interface and vinyl LP record—and a related Web3 series, which the artist has produced on the occasion of his upcoming solo exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York. This in-person presentation—on view from May 12 to July 22 at 540 West 25th Street—along with the speculative reality work and NFT series, presented by Art Blocks x Pace Verso, share a thematic focus on histories of military and CIA influence operations in the US.

Paglen’s interactive speculative reality artwork, titled CYCLOPS, takes the audience on a journey through the world of 1960s-era CIA mind control experiments, psychological operations, and unexplained historical anomalies. For this new work, the artist drew inspiration from Ed Ruscha’s Rocky II sculpture hidden in the Mojave Desert; collisions of facts and fictions in Benjamín Labatut’s book When We Cease to Understand the World; and Internet-era enigmas such as the “Cicada 3301” project.

Featuring documents, videos, and other archival materials produced between the 1950s and early 1970s, CYCLOPS requires active engagement and participation. Users are tasked with reconstructing events, deciphering codes, conducting open-source intelligence investigations, and analyzing music, literature, and poetry to move through a work that is part treasure-hunt, part historical unfiction, and part cybersecurity challenge. In this way, CYCLOPS teaches many of the skills behind Paglen’s own investigative practice, exploring how a clandestine history of research into psychological operations, mind control, and paranormal phenomena has shaped media and politics of the present moment. This networked, collaborative experience spanning the digital and physical worlds can be accessed online at (opens in a new window)


Trevor Paglen, CYCLOPS, 2023 © Trevor Paglen

Paglen’s new NFT and vinyl LP record are among the various entry points into the CYCLOPS portal. The LP includes a recorded series of odd tracks—some are musical compositions, others are filled with voices reading letters and counting numbers, and others resemble static noise. Each track contains mysteries and puzzles leading to a collection of files placed on CYCLOPS’s antiquated mainframe computer interface, which is modelled on computer programs from the 1970s. Through interactions with the mainframe and LP record, users will begin to reconstruct some of the most bizarre and disturbing projects initiated by American intelligence agencies. Puzzles and codes on the LP record unlock layers of a story that is told through interactions between the record, CYCLOPS mainframe, and IRL experiences.

For his first-ever Web3 project, titled PRELUDES, the artist has created a series of interactive, musical NFTs, each of which is paired with a visual score. The sound in these NFTs is inspired by the work of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, pioneers of algorithmically generated music, as well as composers Michael Haydn, Johannes Brahms, and Olivier Messiaen, who developed systems for encoding messages into their music.

With PRELUDES, Paglen harnesses the peculiarities of blockchain’s underlying technology to plant secrets within his NFTs. Teaching the fundamentals of cryptography, this Web3 series centers on issues of subjectivity and perception.

Produced as part of an ongoing partnership between Pace Verso, the gallery’s Web3 hub, and the leading generative art Platform Art Blocks, Paglen’s NFT series is loaded with easter eggs for collectors to uncover, parse, and utilize in CYCLOPS. Collectors who unearth their NFT’s secrets are entitled to a free limited-edition vinyl LP record from CYCLOPS and a gelatin-silver print created by the artist. PRELUDES NFTs will be available for purchase on (opens in a new window) starting April 5.

  • Exhibitions — Announcing Trevor Paglen's New "Speculative Reality Work" and Related Web3 Series, Mar 23, 2023