May 8, 2012
Movie Night at the Mall
Artist Doug Aitkens is King of the Big Screen
By Nancy Staab
Multi-Media Artist Doug Aitkens Transforms The Hirshhorn (and D.C.’s museum mall) into a Circular Movie Screen Through May 13 with his project Song 1.
Forty-something California artist Doug Aitkens works in many modes: as a photographer, collagist, sculptor, sound and video artist. However, it is his multi-media video works and installations that have cemented his international art fame and garnered him the International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Just call Aitkens an urban interventionist. In 2007 the artist staged a brilliant video piece, Sleepwalker, writ large on the façade of the MoMA in New York City. The piece documented the mundane lives of several city dwellers going about their day (sleeping, showering, taking the subway) with the urban noises of the real city of New York as the spontaneous soundtrack.
With his latest video project for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., the plotline is even more nebulous than in Sleepwalkers. Song 1 documents lonely urban dwellers mouthing the words to a repeatedly looped song “I Only Have Eyes for You” as sung by approximately 40 performers. The singers range from Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra to newer versions that Aitkens commissioned from the likes of Beck and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The multiple images are showcased around the museum’s circular façade via 11 high-definition projectors and multiple outdoor speakers from dusk until midnight. In the process, the spectral images transform the fortress-like museum building into what Aikens terms “liquid architecture,” enlivening the public spaces of the mall and enfolding rapt viewers into the nighttime spectacle.
The old chestnut song “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which debuted in a 1930’s Busby Berkeley musical, does not appear to have much significance on the surface. However, the lyrics do hint at themes of vision, spectacle, viewing, solipsism, and getting lost -–whether in the hypnotic eyes of a lover, or in transformative art that melds image, sound, music, architecture and urban space into a perfect experience. Whatever the message, and Aitkens prefers to keep things open-ended, his video intervention is mesmerizing.
Catch “Song 1” nightly through May 13 at The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., www.hirshhorn.si.edu
HERE'S A VIDEO OF THE FACTORY SCENE FROM AITKEN'S SONG 1 ON THE HIRSCHHORN BUILDING
ANOTHER MULTI-MEDIA PIECE BY AITKENS, CALLED BLACK MIRROR. IT STARS CHLOE SEVIGNY AND INVOLVES PERCUSSION DRUMS, MULTIPLE SCREENS, POLE DANCERS, AND MUSIC PERFORMED LIVE ON A BARGE IN HYDRA, GREECE, IN 2011.