Los Angeles

Doug Aitken

What if you crossed a nonlinear, multiscreen video installation with a hall of mirrors? An unlikely question, perhaps, but one to which Doug Aitken’s the moment, 2005, provides an answer. The centerpiece of Aitken’s first hometown solo show, the work also reflects his rewarding tendency to engage the formal and metaphorical possibilities of presentation and context as he does the particulars of sound, imagery, and editing. This broad-based curiosity dovetails with other questions: How might one make a work that appears simultaneously linear and nonlinear, imbued with feelings of being whole and fragmented, connected and isolated?

In the moment, Aitken dangles his responses in front of us on eleven large plasma-screen monitors, arranged in an S-curve that here diagonally bisected a darkened room. The screens hang from the ceiling at chest height, thereby fusing retinal experience with bodily awareness. Mounted on the back of each screen is a mirror, and from most points, one’s view includes a tangle of images seen first on the monitors, then seen smaller, fragmented, and in reverse in the mirrors. There’s also a sound track of deep, pulsing electronic music laced with static hums, hisses, and crackles. Six and a half minutes of footage cycle across the screens, with brief, visionary scenes sometimes repeating across several monitors at once or jumping from one to the next. At other times, superficially diverse yet typologically similar images appear.

Despite its hyperactivity, and for all its jump cuts, the cycle exhibits a linear progression from beginning to end. People from all walks of life are seen twitching in their sleep. They awaken, and their urban surroundings stir to life as the pace of the editing—hard cuts from one brief scene to the next—ramps up. But the world never really seems to get up to full speed, appearing underpopulated and anemic. Figures drift through their environs, with scenes revealing what might more aptly be described as states of being than of activity. These are interspersed with head-on images of buildings and isolated views of telephone wires and power lines—mug shots of modern architecture and infrastructure. The editing climaxes in a rapid-fire sequence of closeups of eyes, followed by a lulling denouement depicting the end of the day and the return to sleep, the cycle announced by a hushed voice-over: “Then it starts again.”

And as it starts again, we hear the introductory phrase that defines the sense of promise, yearning, and impossibility that the piece seems to offer: “I want to be everywhere.” The words challenge the viewer to be more a part of “the moment,” more connected, and no matter how many times you watch, it leaves you hovering between exhilaration and disappointment, ease and angst, vitality and numbness. At their best, the other works Aitken presented here, including the moment is the moment, 2004, a panel covered with mirrors constantly shifting their reflections with the help of small motors, engender the same weird romantic and existential rush. Aitken knows how to stir a heap of irresolution and leave you wanting more—feeling, despite the emotional maelstrom, oddly pleased to be so absolutely in the present.

Christopher Miles