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Doug Aitken: Still Life

The Los Angeles artist freezes moments in time to explore landscape, light and movement


The white walls of Doug Aitken’s new show “Still Life” at LA’s Regen Projects appear to have been ravaged by an earthquake or some other natural disaster. The multimedia artist created his sculptural works with vivid photographs, LED lights, gleaming mirrors, graphic texts, cast resin, painted aluminum and powder-coated steel. Filling the gallery with gleaming explorations of the centuries-old still life tradition in a modern-day context, each light box sculpture offers viewers elements of movement, light and sound.


In step with the classic categories of still life paintings (flora, food, homes, fauna and death), Aitken describes being fascinated by an idea of the modern landscape. He refers to this psychological landscape as the twilight between the present and the near future. Aitken’s recent triumph with his conceptual art train Station to Station—which had other artists come aboard for a month-long journey across the country—had also probed into the idea of unfamiliar territories.


There is something about commercial signage that speaks of desperation. There is a sense of violence, that it is pushed out at you.

Similarly, a road trip across the country led Aitken to be fascinated with signage. He describes the monotonous feeling of long distance driving. “There is something about commercial signage that speaks of desperation,” says Aitken. “There is a sense of violence, that it is pushed out at you. It is bombarding you.” For his piece “Glass Horizon,” the artist made a wall-mounted kaleidoscope with images of the Los Angeles freeway system and triangles of blindingly shiny mirrors, echoing for some the feeling of navigating those often treacherous Southern California roadways.


Walking through the gallery to encounter each sculpture reveals Aitken’s ability to play with the viewer’s perception of time and space. A dark hallway leads to “Eyes closed, wide awake.” Aitken refers to the work as a sonic fountain with a structure that looks like stalactites and stalagmites. Dripping water creates the sound composition revealed by underwater microphones—Aitken calls it “a living composition about the slow changes of time.” He explores movement and interaction with “Twilight,” cast from a Los Angeles public payphone out of resin. “It’s sensing you, so as you move around it, it changes its pulse and composition.”


Throughout the show, Aitken finds ways to ask the viewer to interact with simple words: End, Exit, Run, Now and Native Land. While standing in the glow of a photo of the surface of the moon cut into the shape of the word “Home,” Aitken describes his approach to his work: “The process is really organic for me. It’s more about the evolution. Things grow out of other works. They also grow out of restlessness. I test and experiment. When I look around, I can see how you see finished works, but for me I see a series of experiments that are all connected.”


The word End appears twice in “Still Life.” In “END/RUN,” the piece breaks thorough a ragged hole in the wall offering dizzying mirrored views from both sides through the words cut out on each end. There, gallery visitors can not only peek into Aitken’s world, but also through the sculpture at each other.

For Aitken these works have become about landscape and the massive flow of information. “It is very hard for us to hold onto an idea, hold onto an image,” explains Aitken. “That’s why I made the show. To explore the idea of freezing something and making it still. Hence the title ‘Still Life’ to almost take a flash strobe and hit it off of this field of information passing by us and let these things petrify and be here. Only you are with them and confronted and exchanging these ideas instead of letting them fly by.”


“Still Life” by Doug Aitken will be on view at Regen Projects in LA through 11 October 2014.

Installation view photos by Brian Forrest, courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles; images of SUN POOL, BAD and END (mirror) © Doug Aitken, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles


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