New York

Doug Aitken

Much has been made, in recent criticism, of the significance of placing photographic images on sculptural objects. But what sort of potential exists for artists making images as sculptural objects? Doug Aitken’s installation on, 2002, seems to do something along those lines, establishing a situation in which projections border on assuming physical presence in three dimensions. Four circular screens are mounted along a central axis in a darkened mirrored room: Two are placed on opposite ends of the gallery while two others sandwich a column in the middle of the space. The same moving image appears on each screen but with a slight time delay that generates a kind of continuous one-way ripple effect from one projection surface to the next. That formal effect is enhanced by the content: The camera repeatedly scans industrial settings before settling and zooming in on a single glowing white sphere that Aitken has superimposed on each landscape. Unlike so many other video installations—which are designed to avoid any accidental incursion of the viewer into the projection field—any movement by audiences across this gallery casts a shadow on the work. The piece creates a seam in the room so that people must stand to the side in order not to obscure the projected image, directing the flow of traffic much as one imagines, say, a cut into the architecture by Gordon Matta-Clark would. In fact, at those moments when a white sphere looms on each screen—providing a kind of visual corollary for Aitken’s axial “cut” (the presence of absence, as it were)—the work underscores the sculptural force of light. One can imagine on as an extrapolation of Robert Irwin’s round enamel-on-aluminum paintings, which cast multiple shadows that similarly circumvent any dualistic relationship between opticality and physicality.

One could push this perceptual logic in an archaeology of ’70s artmaking. While Robert Smithson saw an expression of time in serial repetition (“hideouts for time,” he called some sculptures), Aitken’s installation adds time to objects by imposing upon them sequences of images. Yet spatiotemporal play is beside the point. Aitken is obsessed with the human figure, which he introduces into his work again and again. (These protagonists also sometimes deliver posthuman keynote speeches that are awkwardly direct in their allusions to modernity’s inscriptions on subjectivity.) The artist’s overriding figural interest was clearest in a second video, new skin, 2002, that, projected onto two oval screens bisecting each other at a ninety-degree angle, tells the story of a young Japanese woman going blind. Knowing that she will soon lose her sight, she sets about mentally cataloguing all the images around her. Throughout this narrative, Aitken freezes images, making objects appearing within them dissolve while leaving backgrounds entirely intact (a motorcycle lying in an open plaza fades into nothing, for example). He also inserts multiple frames onto single screens to allow for seductive variances of speed and perspective, using video to generate disparate but simultaneous modes of attention among viewers.

Considered together, these installations present a kind of split between body and mind. One work consists of animated Minimalism. The other is a Rorschach blot in space and draws audiences into a romantic allegory of memory and the subjective experience of opticality deteriorating in the face of physical forms. (“Feel the texture of change,” the female lead says.) In effect, Aitken asks viewers to take the place of those whom he would depict, creating parallel scenarios for their figures and suggesting that—in the same way that his camera sometimes dwells on industrial sites whose time is nigh—image considered separately from object is for him a thing of the past.

Tim Griffin