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Doug Aitken’s Video Work in Turin

by Enrico Pedrini

New Ocean by Doug Aitken, installation view, Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, Turin, 2003.

There is a major exhibition of works by Doug Aitken at the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin. This venue opened with Aitken’s video installation New Ocean, which combines special effects and superb editing, intensely heightening the viewer’s sensitivity to an experience with water. Aitken obtains a “radical alternative” to natural experience by accelerating images, slowing them down or dissolving them by means of original focal devices. Through such media as video, photography, and sound, he plunges viewers into an imagined environment.

Visitors are immersed in this multimedia work, which is projected on wide metal screens. Slowly, they traverse various scenes of the installation, through a dark environment, which is upset by the clashing blue shades and sounds of the sea. Visitors are taken deep into the watery element, and exposed to the energy given off by the waves. Aitken doesn’t seek to control the ocean but rather share it, as both a sense experience and a symbol of globalization, uniting our economy by way of ports, East and West. One feels that Aitken is estranged from the sea and its creative and destructive forces. This American artist explores the relationship between nature’s power and human civilization, in which catastrophes engender participation and strong emotion.

His installation distracts viewers from the cold routines of urban life, but presents in turn a fake reality, based upon media. Emotion is important to Aitken because it forges a strong bond to life through moments of warm participatory lyricism. By way of virtual experiences, he creates disturbances and excitement. They condition people’s social interactions, and sensitize them to new emotions. Perhaps what interests Aitken the most is the use of creativity to visualize natural events while, at the same time, suggesting human infringement and discontinuity. By doing this, Aitken deconstructs the artifice of his own media, causing any form of lyricism or emotion to dissolve.

Three more works by Doug Aitken are visible at the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, and each one speaks to a “visionary catastrophism.” The New Ocean Cycle, produced in Argentina and at the Arctic Pole, focuses on a white universe of ice and snow. Thaw lingers on the enormous icy stretches melting into huge masses of blue water. The artist tells us tales about desolate towns in his final work Interiors.

Doug Aitken won the jury prize at the Venice Biennial in 1999 and exhibits at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Recent exhibitions include the Kunsthaus in Bregenz, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Pecci Museum in Prato and, in 1993, the Gallery 303 in New York. His exhibition in Turin ran through May 18, 2003.

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