ocean, 2001, video installation
Venice Biennale? Whitney Biennial? Been there. Fatboy Slim
music video director? Done that. Now LA-based artist Doug
Aitken, 34, takes on Tokyo with new ocean, a group of seven
multi-screen video installations at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery.
Entering the blackened interior of the museum is like stepping
into a movie theater after the show has already started; with
an eye on the screens, you try not to step on anybody while
looking for a place to sit. These are not films so much as
stylish video music boxes: short, rhythmic clips of sound
collage and landscape synchronized and projected onto sculptural
arrays of screens.
Water stars in three of the pieces. It's a well-loved
actor with great range and decorative properties. In the three-screen
thaw, giant glaciers groan and crunch while ice crystals snap,
crackle, pop and shatter. In one second expansion, dueling
water drips mirror and invert each other across the room.
New ocean debuted at London's Serpentine Gallery last
year, but Aitken re-mixed and modified the installations for
Opera City. He says he tried to connect the works by opening
a dialogue between them. "I wanted to create a virtual
architecture through film, editing, and sound to create a
psychological topography without physical tangibility,"
ocean floor, 2001, video installation
The four waterless pieces in the middle of the show interrupt
the flow. In Window 2 (set to a relentless taiko drum beat),
the camera zooms in quickly on a series of white circles set
in store fronts, street scenes, and construction sites. Projected
onto four sides of two intersecting, round, translucent screens,
the different circles and their backgrounds become disjointed
The large light box photo Rise is an out-of-focus postcard
view of the L street grid just past dusk. The picture glows
with strings of streetlights and speeding cars.
New ocean floor and new ocean new machine, shown on separate
pairs of intersecting, rectangular screens, feature isolated
figures wandering in natural and artificial wildernesses.
A solitary man walks through empty landscapes-the desert,
parking lots, escalators, etc. He falls through the bottom
of the screen and drops into another scene. A woman rides
the subway, walks, falls into a black space. There, she grabs
the intersection point of the projection screens with both
hands, swinging around it like a gymnast. There's no
narrative in either video, just motion in emptiness.
The final installation, new ocean cycle, summarizes the weaknesses
of new ocean. A 360¡ Disneyland Circle-Vision style
panorama of screens envelops viewers in a series of watery
landscapes-a Sugimoto-inflected endless ocean horizon,
dark rivulets running along asphalt, slowly rotating shots
of thundering waterfalls. The main thing separating the video
from a UNESCO World Heritage Sites documentary or late night
Japanese TV "healing time" music and landscapes
is an ambiguous figure-a struggling swimmer treading
water seen from far below-projected onto an overhead
screen. But even he fades into shifting blue diamonds.
While the "dry" pieces have some of the intriguing
narrative suspension and ambiguity of Aitken's earlier
photos and videos, his watery videos are all wet. Uncritically
combining Romanticism and stoner kaleidoscope gazing is more
appropriate in nightclub chill-out rooms.
There's an old cliché that drowning is supposed
to be a pleasurable way to die, once your body stops fighting.
Most visitors to this exhibition recline on the floor, zoning
Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
Until Nov 17. In Project N, Yasuko Otsuka (painting). Hatsudai
stn (Keio New Line), east exit. Tokyo Opera City Tower 3-4F.
Tue-Sun noon-8pm. Tel: 03-5353-0756.
Adm: Adults ¥1,000, students
¥800, children ¥600 (visitors to the Dumb Type
exhibition in the ICC in the same building receive a discount).
produced by the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, presented
in association with the Serpentine Gallery, London. Courtesy
of the artist, the Serpentine Gallery, London, 303 Gallery,
New York, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Galerie Hauser
& Wirth & Presenhuber, Zurich. Photos ©Stephen