DOUG AITKEN: MIGRATION
303 Gallery, New York
By Hans Michaud
What is happening in Mr. Aitken's piece (at least one of the things) is, like I've written about before, a tension between actually watching a moving image in a gallery setting and watching a moving image in a cinema setting. Ultimately, 303 Gallery is a gallery, not a cinema, and, no matter how one cuts this reality apart and looks at it from a smorgasbord of perspectives, it remains this way. Separating the two are the expectations of the individual gallery-goers who enter the space and apprehend the work.
In a cinema space, the expectations are different. One is expected to be quiet, to not get in the way of the screen, to not interrupt the cinematic process and, in the last analysis, the expectation is that the work will start at a specific time and end at another specific time.
Doug Aitken's piece, Migration, is by all means a gallery piece, even though a staggering number of elements (music, lighting, editing, etc.) arrive here from the cinema. From Migration, what I as a viewer/gallery-attendee have gathered from the work is as best as I can describe it, something like the following:
-a series of vignettes, gathered together and presented on more than one screen nearly simultaneously (staggered slightly), using very discrete elements out of their natural or expected contexts so as to present a set of inquiries, aimed at both familiarizing and destabilizing the viewer.
…is anything more generic than the above paragraph? The above hails from an analytic reading of Migrations. In my opinion, it won't do. I'm going to point you, the reader, in a more personal direction, to draw you in to my reading, my interpretation, which may or may not add to one's total experience of Mr. Aitken's piece.
As children, my sister and me were shuttled around the United States in the backseat of our family's car every year, for reasons that are unimportant to this essay. A certain dollop of my childhood was spent being driven, migrating, as it were, around the States, each year to a different location.
As an adult in my 20s and 30s I found that I set up situations to continue this process, either engaged in the actual act of moving or simply visiting; the point being that through a chunk of my adult life I continued to spend time in a car, traversing the United States and finding temporary residencies in budget motels, either mom-and-pops or the better-known chains such as Super 8 or Motel 6. It wasn't that I was searching for anything, specifically; what I was doing was repeating patterns.
The budget motel room, across the freeways of the United States, is like a way station for those of us who continue to probe, relentlessly on the move, forever traversing about the country, some of us even setting up our careers in order so we may continue these migrations back and forth on the map. There is, ultimately, no final destination to be reached. It is the process of moving that is important.
In Doug Aitken's piece we are presented with wild animals in budget motel rooms. They are migrating. However, as in the text above, I mentioned the process, the patterns, as being crucial elements to these explorations. The gallery itself is set up with three massive freeway-styled billboard signs acting as screens. The three of them, in a row, present Migrations with a slight delay between them, a staggering of one or two seconds, from the front (closest to the street) of the gallery to the back.
Billboards act as signposts to those of us who have spent time migrating across the country. They're like punctuation, clicks, marking our journeys at more or less regular intervals. They do nothing, in fact, save for this role. But this is a crucial role they play. These billboard signs of course play another crucial role in 303 Gallery: they function as projection screens.
The actual piece, Migrations, has no beginning, middle or end. What transpire throughout the work are episodes, each illustrating a particular wild animal occupying a budget-level motel room. To be precise, I'm not sure if all the wild animals presented have migratory patterns. I'm quite sure that all of them occupy certain terrain of the United States, however.
But as to the actual narrative, as such, well, there is none. And this, ultimately, is what separates an installation from a work of cinema. Within each vignette certain elements are presented; however there is no beginning, middle and end in each interlude.
The process of watching Migrations is, ultimately, much like the continual process of migratory animals or humans. It is a continuum, a psychological and cultural dynamic, underlying the lives of many individuals and animals whose patterns of movement across our physical and cultural terrain continues, unabated, let loose of necessarily physical or even abstract goals, as such. It almost could be said that these schemes culminate in a kind of exploratory bedrock of scaffolding, if you will, propping up the rest of the individuals who make up the decidedly sedentary segment of the world.
Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.
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