The Doug Aitken exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg is the first comprehensive showing of this American artist’s work in Germany. It comprises a video installations, a sound installation, and a number of large-format photographs, all dating from the period 1998–2000. A further video installation will be shown concurrently at Kunst-Werke Berlin.
At the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, the Jury awarded Aitken the Premio Internazionale for his installation Electric Earth, which will be a central feature of the Wolfsburg showing. His work has recently been seen in collective and individual exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Wiener Secession in Vienna.
Born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1968, Doug Aitken studied at Marymount College, Palos Verdes, in 1986–87 and at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, in 1987–91. He began his career as a prolific director of music videos, for artists including Fatboy Slim, Iggy Pop, Barenaked Ladies, and m-ziq. Aitken's videos have frequently aired on music channels in America, Asia, and Europe, and his photographs have appeared in New York Magazine, Interview Magazine, Rolling Stone, I-D Magazine, and Ray Gun A book of his photography was published in 1998 under the title Metallic Sleep, and this has given its name to the exhibition in Wolfsburg.
Aitken's film pieces Diamond Sea, Electric Earth, American International, Eraser, and Cathouse have been presented both as large spatial installations and in single-channel versions at international film festivals.
The Wolfsburg exhibition begins with the installation Electric Earth, a work that occupies multiple screens and spaces and incorporates eight projections in all. On entering the first section of the piece, the viewer is confronted by the protagonist of the piece, the eccentric dancer Ali Gigi Johnson, who is seen lying on a bed with a remote control in his hand. Often I dance so fast that I become part of my surroundings, says Johnson in a monotone. I absorb this energy … it is as if I were eating it. That is the only piece of Now that I can get. Johnson walks through a limbo of desolate landscapes: from the neon lights of a carwash, past the lights of a window display of sporting trophies, to a Coca-Cola machine in an urban wasteland.
In Electric Earth, the artist makes a connection between the electrified structure of our urban surroundings and the nervous system of the human body. I am an essentialist, says the 32-year-old Aitken. I wanted to pinpoint something that is utterly elemental, with a terrain that is both everywhere and nowhere.
Hysteria (1998) was originally made as an audio-video installation; for Wolfsburg, Aitken has reworked it as a pure audio installation. The strident and at times hysterical screaming of pop fans over the past forty years thus appears in isolation from the visuals of the ecstatic young people themselves. Without the picture, the visitor has difficulty in interpreting the sound. The combination of music and screaming situates the youth cult and somatic experience at the core of the installation..
Another central work in the Wolfsburg exhibition is the photo piece Rise, which shows the sea of lights that is Los Angeles by night. Here, as in Electric Earth, the city appears as a magical, electrified place. Again and again, in Aitken’s work, some kind of hyperactivity is set against a state of apparent repose, apparent stasis. For Aitken, the big city embodies this ambivalence.
The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has repeatedly engaged in collaborative ventures with art institutions in Berlin, in order to draw the attention of the Berlin public to the activities of a museum that is barely an hour's ride away by ICE express train. To augment the range of Aitken’s work presented in the Wolfsburg show, the idea arose of selecting, jointly with Kunst-Werke BerlinM, a further video installation that would be shown at the Berlin venue. From February 18 through April 8, the video installation I Am In You (2000) will be shown in the large exhibition gallery at Kunst-Werke. On five screens, a young girl appears. Vastly magnified, she stares at the viewer and murmurs an enigmatic message: I like to run and not slow down. I like to see and look. In sequence, the screens show loops of a variety of sequences: images of hands in play, aircraft, the steering-wheel of a car, and children swimming. The sound switches from crackling silence to piano music, to the technological music of the spheres, to pandemonium.
All the works chosen are of compelling visual intensity; they haunt the mind. All belong to the borderline area between pop culture and media art. Doug Aitken’s production methods lie at the intersection of the industrial age and the digital age. It is always clear that the artistic vision behind his installations has evolved out of the world of commercial video production.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, devised and designed by the artist, with a preface by Gijs van Tuyl and essays by Jörg Heiser, Veit Görner, and Francesco Bonami.
ELECTRIC EARTH , 1999