Doug Aitken is widely recognized for his large-scale installations that challenge the boundaries of video art in both form and content. Often resisting the traditional cinematic convention of linear plot-driven narratives, Aitken's work explores the complex perceptual challenges we face in a media saturated world. His rich and vibrant imagery incorporates many stylistic devices common in popular media. However, Aitken's use of this imagery is so carefully and deliberately constructed that, while it feels at times familiar, it is profoundly more poetic than popular media, Leaving room for viewers to interpret freely, make multiple connections and devise meaning that is open-ended.
Although based in Los Angeles, Aitken's work demonstrates his perspective on the world. Aitken himself travels a great deal and often addresses his transient relationship to the world in his work. His work often takes place in more than one location and follows multiple characters or perspectives struggling to find their own sense of cohesion and meaning. By questioning commonalties and disjunctures in perceptual experiences, Aitken inspires viewers to become conscious of their own perceptual experience of the piece.
While the project Interiors is the central piece in this exhibition, Aitken has created other new works including Plateau, as well as a forthcoming publication in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM).
Interiors provides the viewer with a constructed architectural environment within the gallery. Comprised of translucent screens, the viewer is led by its cross-shaped structure to enter an enclosed space to view the piece. In the center of this structure is a specially designed circular seat, which invites viewers to sit, providing a particular location from which to experience the piece both visually and aurally. However, this centered point of view serves to further enforce the idea of interiors, as the viewer sitting and watching the video projections can be seen by the other viewers from the outside of the structure through the transparent screen walls. The video projections can also be seen on both sides of the screens, thus challenging the notion of a structure's ability to separate inside from outside. The traditional notion of the screen itself, as a flat surface, is also put into question, thereby subverting a conventional notion of the cinema and releasing the spectator from a fixed position, seated in front of a screen. In Interiors, the screen becomes an architectural element, and is in fact fused with the architectural surroundings.
The notion of interiors is further articulated and explored as the video itself calls into question the notion of interior on more of a socio-cultural Level. The piece focuses on four distinct scenarios, each one a different interior or exterior environment; including Tokyo auctioneers, a character played by Andre Benjamin from Outkast wandering around a desolate neighborhood in Los Angeles, a tap dancer in a helicopter factory, and a woman playing racquetball. Aitken challenges the notion of the linear narrative by creating these separate narratives that randomly shift from screen to screen, connecting for brief moments to become a cohesive image. However, this moment of cohesion and order is fleeting, and as suddenly as the sound and images come together, the narratives break apart. The four protagonists, while living distinctly disparate experiences, can be seen to have things in common; however, their differences are even more obvious. They are never quite allowed to enter into one another's world.
Sound is also a key component of the piece as the overall composition, both sound and image, is rhythmically based. While the soundtrack has been carefully constructed as a unified composition, each segment has a separately composed soundtrack that is linked with the individual sequences of visual imagery. This is achieved by separating out individual tracks in coordination with the location of the images on the screens. As a result, the viewer then becomes a kind of receiver where all of these sound elements come together. Aitken's use of sound serves to emphasize both the discordance of each individual scenario and in turn the harmony of the brief fusion of sound and image.
Making viewers more conscious of how we experience time is another important goal of Aitken's. The artist believes that a linear narrative does not accurately depict our current experience of time, and, in many ways, the fragmented and non-linear imagery he creates in his work is an attempt to better represent how we experience images in time. According to Aitken, "we're navigating an image and content world which is de-material and intangible. Everything is in flux, everything is being replaced and recontextualized constantly... endlessly."' Typically in narrative film, it is the image itself that moves, and viewers must follow this movement to follow the story.
Aitken's digital composite lightbox, Plateau, transforms a photograph into a glowing three dimensional, sculptural form. The image is a composite of photographs that have been digitally manipulated to create an image of a modernist megalopolis. With the assistance of The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Aitken constructed birdhouses from FedEx boxes, basing the designs on fascist, Brutalist and Utopian architecture. These recognizable architectural designs, known for their stark geometric forms, become less imposing and even seem to get lost in the crowded cityscape. The contradiction between the large scale monumental buildings made of enduring industrial materials, and the miniature birdhouse scale of the buildings made of cardboard suggests a sense of irony, which is in stark contrast to the ideological foundation upon which the original architecture of these buildings is based. It was also important to Aitken that the material used for the birdhouses be free, thus adding another layer of complexity to the relationship between the socialist ideology these buildings represent and the image of fast and easy access to material goods worldwide that the FedEx shipping containers conjure. Furthermore, FedEx boxes are shipped all over the world and have become emblematic of our highly mobile society. This is played up by the birds, nomadic creatures themselves, who seem to be quite at home resting and frolicking in this metropolis of complexly coded birdhouses.
The third component of this exhibition is a book that is in the process of being produced as an edition by the artist and The Fabric Workshop and Museum. Aitken sees the book not merely as documentation of the exhibition, but also as a unique work of art and an experiential object composed of images and text. As Aitken is interested in pushing the traditional forms of video art, the book is also an attempt to challenge our typical assumptions about the form and function of a book. Aitken wants the texts and images not to be read like a traditional book, but more like a haiku, with subtle associations to be made between each individual element. The texts in the book include an interview with the artist, a fictional short story and an analysis of his new works.