Walking into the shadowy depths of 303 Gallery this month, viewers are confronted with an almost completely destabilizing series of visuals. Huge explosions of color and line expand out from the center of television screens placed in the pitch-black space, swirling movements and patterns created by arrangements of various technologic peripherals and paraphernalia. Accentuated by the hall of mirrors the artist has constructed inside the gallery space, the video creates a alienating effect, the feeling of being awash in technologic constructs we are inventing faster than we can fully comprehend their effects on communication, knowledge or expression.
This is NEW ERA, artist Doug Aitken’s ambitious video project and installation, and his first exhibition with the gallery in New York in several years. The work in particular focuses on Aitken’s research around Martin Cooper, the inventor of the mobile phone. Aitken weaves the story of Cooper’s life into a poetic narrative about humanity’s history and future, using the inventor’s words as the leitmotif of a gradual deconstruction of images and sounds into a dystopian landscape where nature and technology coexist.
Aitken’s piece is a swirling morass of imagery, an ever-expanding net of remote sensors, circuit boards, screens and touchpads, interspersed with the equally winding, dizzying forms of modern transportation systems, skylines and urban grids. This is a poem about modernity, but one as much about aestheticizing as it is about letting the forms themselves speak. Even as Aitken’s visual patterns and gradual sense of editorial progression allows the viewer a steadily paced but psychologically fraught pathway through the landscape of modernity, these forms are equally allowed their time to reveal their internal architectures and electronic motivations. One thinks of Baudrillard’s America as a distinct touchstone, a book of breathless observation and relentless sensory input that never loses site of the fact that the writer himself is rocketing through these hyper-accelerated landscapes.
It’s only in a small alcove at the back of the gallery where the viewer can get a sense of visual relief from the stimuli, and where they are simultaneously confronted by a lone neon work, repeating the word “Jungle” with a series of light patterns. It is almost as if the clarity of the moment away from the artist’s main space only allows for the articulation of its sensory overload, of the “jungle” of sensation characteristic of the modern era. Attaching a concrete descriptor to the adjacent space, the viewer once again prepares to plunge back into its mass of color and light, perhaps a little more prepared, but all the more aware of the conditions of viewership. If this is Aitken’s portrait of the world today, perhaps this self-aware moment may be the inklings of a new sense of cognition, the act of a more connected humanity finally switching on, and wading back into the dense fog of a new era, phone in hand.
The show is on view through May 25th.
— D. Creahan
Doug Aitken: New Era