In this exhibition, his most ambitious works can be sampled in only one place. Station to Station (2013) was a 4,000-mile train journey across the United States, traveling a changing cadre of artists, musicians, and other artists in 12 wagons that are also creative studios. When the train stopped, there would be a multi-media ‘happening’ at the selected stations. At MCA we exemplify this extraordinary project in the form of a documentary.
There are also movie versions. new horizon (2019), an illuminated hot air balloon and Underwater Pavilions (2016) Geometric metal framed sculptures accessible only to scuba divers, located off the coast of Catalina Island, California.
The scale and passion of Aitken’s work allows us to see only documents rather than reality. Her sonic pavilion (2009) is an elegant, modern building built in a clearing in the Brazilian rainforest. A house carefully prepared for a tunnel dug at a depth of 700 meters, where a microphone picks up the sounds of the inner movements of the earth. (2017) was a house with mirrored walls erected in the desert near Palm Springs, but has since been reused in the snow fields of Gstaad, Switzerland.
pieces like diamond sea (1997) are independent video works with the same atmospheric intentions as site-specific installations set in the Namib desert, one of the world’s most desolate places. We are invited to travel in our minds to this distant landscape. Somewhere in the sandy fields there is an almost fully automated diamond mine, a living proof of the technology’s pervasive, global presence.
The works that we can experience firsthand are no less abstract and open-ended. Sonic Fountain II (2013/15) is a large, dazzling pool of white water that fills the middle of the screen, filled with irregular droplets falling from overhead pipes, like some kind of makeshift music. New Age (2018) is an installation that combines mirrors and projections, introducing us to Martin Cooper, who made the first cell phone call in 1973. This was one of those historical events that no one knew about that revolutionized the way we live. Cooper has become an old man, but the technology he unleashed is still growing, crisscrossing the planet with ever-increasing volumes of data at higher speeds than ever before.
The work that will be most attractive to the audience emigration (imperial) (2008), a three-channel video installation that takes us through a series of cheap, shabby US hotel rooms. Each one is occupied by a wild animal – a mountain lion, a buffalo, a horse, a fox, a deer, a peacock, an owl, a group of rabbits … perhaps the most interesting is the beaver climbing in the tub. .
Animals move in different ways, but seem completely confused by hotel rooms as well as passive rabbits. This repetitive formula scattered everywhere people settle is a ridiculous scenario that makes us realize the unnatural character of bedrooms. People watching the movie begin to identify with animals and wonder why. everybody won’t go crazy in these dreary enclosures. Maybe they do. A large percentage of Americans today seem to have discovered madness as a way of life.
Aitken overcomes this epidemic of stupidity. A cool, philosophical one-man idea factory makes art for those who want to drop the railing and step into that zone of uncertainty between the real and the virtual. “Everything I do is an experiment,” he once said, but art galleries are not laboratories. There is no objective measure for success or failure with Aitken’s work. It’s up to you, viewing as the author, to make the call.
Doug Aitken: The New Era, Contemporary Art Museum, until 6 February 2022.