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Exhibition: Doug Aitken. We're safe as long as everything's moving

Barcelona, 6 July 2004

A voice emerges from a sea of images. It has a soft, deep, hypnotic timbre. Over and over again it repeats, “You can’t stop”, until it fades away and leaves us alone bombarded by a constant flow of a sea of images. The voice is part of i am in you, an architectural and visual installation which opens the door to a universe made up not only of space and time, but also of the hypnotic repetition of forms and structures, of the sensation of being able to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Segmentation, ellipsis, acceleration and slow motion are just some of the resources used by Doug Aitken (Redondo Beach, California, 1968) to build magic, absorbing atmospheres surrounding and seducing spectators, inviting them to enter a universe of communication through image and sound. Faces, rhythms, landscapes, silences, gadgets, rigmarole and gestures succeed each other, one after the other, at breathtaking speed. Their stories are far from lineal narrations, rather they induce an exercise in attention to the most invisible and imperceptible elements of the communicative act. CaixaForum presents, for the first time in Spain, an exhibition dedicated to Doug Aitken, one of the United States’ most outstanding contemporary artists. Produced and organized by ”la Caixa” Foundation in Hall 3 of the CaixaForum, the exhibition brings together three large-scale architectural installations (each occupying some 300 square meters): i am in you, blow debris and interiors, as well as a selection of photographs from the “plateau” series. In a parallel event an inedited sound piece entitled skyliner, expressly conceived by the artist for this exhibition, will be presented at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. All the works were created between 2000 and 2004.

The exhibition, “Doug Aitken. We’re safe as long as everything’s moving”, curated by Marta Gili, head of Photography and Visual Arts at the ”la Caixa” Foundation, may be visited at CaixaForum (Av. del Marquès de Comillas 6-8, Barcelona), from 7 July to 26 September, 2004. Following these dates the exhibition will be transferred to the Sala Rekalde (Bilbao).

Doug Aitken joins Tracey Moffatt, Gillian Wearing, Pierrick Sorin and Aernout Mik at the centre of a series of exhibitions through which ”la Caixa” Foundation sets out to show the complexity of the contemporary world. Together with Bill Viola (whose work will be exhibited next season in the Exhibition Hall in Madrid), Doug Aitken is one of the most outstanding American artists on today’s contemporary art scene. Unlike Viola however, who isolates film-takes to create an almost Zen-like sense of meditative calm, Aitken plays with the acceleration and accumulation of an endless number of images, the recomposition of which makes them more suggestive and evocative. Thus their projection onto huge multiple screens creates an absorbing atmosphere which submerges spectators in an indescribable experience and guides them to the darker zones of the sub-conscious.

Why do we communicate with each other? How do we do it? What is the price of losing our sense of “I”? Or that of community? These are some of the inherent questions in Aitken’s artistic practices. Born in California, his work is the incarnation of the American West: Los Angeles’ struggle to find its place. His origin places him at the last stop of American expansion towards the West: Los Angeles (California), the city from which it is impossible to continue further westward, where the land meets the ocean, the last place in which a person can create a new past.

In all his installations Aitken painstakingly explores the capability of the slightest thing, the most trivial occurrence, to intercept the course of the predictable. The complexity of the world in which we live and the multiple connections that collective dependence generates demand a new way of articulating our experience as individuals and as a collective which is more in keeping with unpredictability and mutation. Aitken’s polymorphic and polyrhythmic installations experiment with the generation and regeneration power of chaos, in other words, they point to the faculty of disorder, indetermination and uncertainty as the way to lend sense and understanding to many of the questions to which our contemporary, overpopulated and interconnected world can find no reply.

Thus Aitken calls upon strategies like segmentation, reiteration and bifurcation to build his stories or compositions, be they sound, visual or architectural. The linearity of traditional narrative, that is, the tale in which a cause is followed by an effect, is no longer suitable for explaining the world. So in interiors, i am in you and blow debris the narrations are erratic, not following a predictable structure of setting, plot and outcome. Neither does the multiplicity of screens or routes inside the space of the installation itself indicate simultaneousness or a correlation of discourses. Rather, it suggests a plurality of presences, of centres of attention to which contemporary information and communication technologies have more than accustomed us.

The exhibition “Doug Aitken. We’re safe as long as everything’s moving” brings together three large architectural installations made up of projections and sounds: blow debris (2000), a work which has never before been seen in Europe, consisting of three spaces and nine huge video screens, interiors (2002), an installation recently acquired by ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Contemporary Art Collection which is exhibiting the work for the first time, and i am in you (2000), which has previously been presented in Copenhagen and Berlin. Some of the photographs from the “plateau” (2002) series, in which the artist employs commercial logos, will also be displayed. Furthermore, as a special contribution to this exhibition Aitken has created skyliner (2004), a sound piece that recreates a new, immaterial and enigmatic space in space which demands the spectator’s participation. It is the wandering movements of the visitor that activates and composes the work’s random sound sequences


blow debris (2000)
Architectural installation composed of projection and sound / 9 DVD channels, 9 projections, 21m loop cycle

This work, which consists of three spaces and nine screens, presents an erratic journey through an empty apocalyptic wasteland. The installation functions as an allegory of Eden and Paradise Lost. From the very first sequence Aitken presents the spectator with an inverted paradise that he himself has created: in the first place, instead of a lush, rich garden he offers a parched, dessert-like landscape, a distressing void crowned by half-dead palm trees; following that, a desolate, arid coast devoid of everything; and finally, a South California suburb made up of anonymous houses, a cultural reflection of the empty dessert. In the last of the three spaces the spectator arrives at the edge of the suburb and, once there, all that was destroyed is recomposed in an explosion of energy. Chairs and tables, light bulbs and televisions (the archetypal elements of the American home) take shape again, replacing the apocalyptic havoc and wilderness. The simultaneously operating nine screens are transformed into one enabling the spectator to see the fragmented narrative of loss and want invented by Aitken.

interiors (2002)
Architectural installation composed of projections and sound / 3 DVD channels, 3 projections, 6m 55s loop cycle / ”la Caixa” Foundation Contemporary Art Collection

A birds-eye view of the installation reveals it to be an architectural structure in the shape of a Greek cross, with two concentric circles at its centre. Inside this peculiar enclave with its absorbing, magical atmosphere, images and sound are projected onto three screens (located in front and at both sides of this cruciform perimeter) at breathtaking speed: faces, rhythms, landscapes, rigmarole gestures silences, gadgets… From a rubbish dump to an office, from a balcony to a beach, from a market to a factory, Aitken weaves the stories of three different characters, distorting the structure of the traditional narration. The surprised visitor, seated precisely in the middle of the cross (the two concentric circles are donut-shaped seats which enable the spectator to watch one screen while seeing the others out of the corner of the eye) tries to find the key with which to decipher this apparently incoherent visual and sonic bombardment. This is, in fact, a simple exercise, consisting in focusing one’s attention and allowing oneself to be carried along by the flow of sounds and images. After a while the stories seem to come together, creating a new narrative.

i am in you (2000)
Architectural installation composed of projections and sound / 3 DVD channels, 5 projections

A voice emerges from the sea of images that make up this installation. It has a soft, deep, hypnotic timbre. Over and over again it repeats the same enunciation, “You can’t stop”, until it fades away and leaves the spectator alone in a space built for images in constant flow. The voice belongs to a young girl. Her peculiarly beautiful face is the only presence in the space, apart from our own. In some strange way this figure concentrates the capability of establishing an intense, dynamic relationship with the world and with the processes that shape our experiences in it. Travel, fantasy, empathy, love, nostalgia… Through experimentation, meditation and contemplation of the world one sets out on a journey towards one’s own interior, aimed however at gaining control over what one is in relation to that which we, the rest of us, the “out there” of the world are not.

skyliner (2004)
Mobile sound piece

In the artist’s own words, this sound piece “is, in fact, an attempt to create a work that is a visual stimulus. It’s sound… only sound waves. But sound waves are extremely precise and sculptural and take on forms. I’m interested in the idea of the in-material; this idea of making works of art that are invisible. Is it feasible to take graphic narration and convert it into sonic narration? Is it feasible to take a literary narration and create sound out of it? It’s an offering to the spectator so that they can really get into the work, move around in it and discover those different aspects of the sound that allow them to organize their own experience based on it. I’d like it to be a very generous work: I’d like it to offer the spectator the chance to go in, spend a little time there, discover something and then leave. Unspoken suggestions, fragments of conversations, sounds that evoke certain memories as responses. I see it as a fortuitous, controlled composition. Controlled in the process of its creation and fortuitous in the way it is offered to the spectator.”

“plateau” (2002)
Lightbox, 132  309.9  35.6 cm

The images in this photographic series portray meta-cities. They are handmade using company logos (such as IBM, FedEx and Coke, among others) which are shaped into cardboard structures. Each piece constitutes a subtle examination of the variation in these logos and is also connected with the idea of regional differences and the way in which their function is rendered useless when they are made to coincide all together.

We’re safe as long as everything’s moving
From 7 July to 26 September 2004

Av. Marquès de Comillas, 6-8
08038 Barcelona

From Tuesday to Sunday and holidays, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mondays closed, except holidays

Information service : Tel.: 902 22 30 40

Admission free


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