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doug aitken
at 303 Gallery

by William McCollum  
 



Diamond Sea
1997













Cathouse
1997









Video still from
Cathouse
1997






Video still from
Cathouse
1997
   A moment of darkness and then the warm glow of the Namib desert in Southwestern Africa. But it isn't really warm. It seems a little cold. Film projections and video monitors parsed around the front gallery of 303 present us with Doug Aitken's meditation on this particular patch of desert, which happens to be the famous forbidden Diamond Areas 1 and 2. In Diamonds Are Forever, 007's adversary, Mr. Wint, says "Curious how everyone who touches them dies."

Aitken's installation, called Diamond Sea, works by sensory overload. It disorients the viewer with simultaneous projections of a harsh little corner of the world. Aitken envelopes the viewer with loud ambient industrial sound that jars the senses. Layered shots of man, machine and earth sweep across screen and wall. But few humans are in sight; the machines are operated by computers. Humans cannot be trusted with this type of commodity. Another work, Passenger, is a wall of C-prints mounted on Plexi. It depicts a static desert, furthering the feeling of dislocation, despite its Cartesian grid.

In the back gallery is another work, a kind of righted Glenn Seator surrounded by Flavinoid objects -- the ultimate cat sanctuary, Cathouse. The interior of this house-in-a-gallery is plush carpeted in white, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, on floor and ceiling. Little niches and alcoves await feline occupation, while monitors placed in the middle of three walls of this one-room kitty cove flicker with images of three anxious individuals. A kid tosses and turns in bed. A woman obsessively brushes her teeth and then sits at a table, neurotically turning a glass of water, spilling its contents over its sides. A man sits in a wooden armchair, sucks on a cigarette, claws at the arms of the chair and flops around in bed. He looks particularly high-strung and is the most distracting of the three. The fact that this guy is Iggy Pop makes for compelling viewing.

Finally, down in the relatively unfinished basement of the new 303 space is ... a landing strip. In a recessed chamber we encounter Moving. Four blue runway lights, blinking in succession, accompanied by more industrial throbbing. The effect is fairly thrilling and masterfully dislocating. In Aitkin's work we find an exceptional sort of light. It is the kind that illuminates the darkened part of the mind where circumstance is taken for granted.

WILLIAM MCCOLLUM is a Gemini and an artist who lives and works in New York.