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MOCA to Present First Comprehensive Exhibit of Doug Aitken’s Work

Since the 1990s, Aitken has created new and deeper levels of viewer involvement in narrative and the moving image.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, presents Doug Aitken: Electric Earth, the first survey to comprehensively examine the full breadth of the artist’s work. The exhibit will be running from September 10th through January 15th.

Since the 1990s, Aitken has created new and deeper levels of viewer involvement in narrative and the moving image. To immerse the viewer in images and sounds, Aitken projects his films across multiple screens in architectural environments. Conceptualized around the notion of the broken screen, Aitken’s films present nonlinear narratives built from fragmented and repetitive abstract images. These films place the viewer at the center of an immersive multisensory experience. In his work across mediums and disciplines, he maps psychological, social, informational, and physical landscapes, often using imagery of the American West. Aitken’s art is informed by media saturation and the ubiquity of information technology, what Aitken describes as the “landscape of fragmentation.” 

Doug Aitken, electric earth (still), 1999, video installation with eight channels of video (color, sound), eight projections, four-room architectural environment.

“Doug Aitken pushes the limits of what an exhibition can be,” remarks MOCA Director Philippe Vergne. “The exhibition creates its own space and time through the fragmentation of images and sounds and becomes a work in itself. It is a total environment that acts as a broadcasting tower for the issues of our time—the ethical and aesthetic questions that frame this moment, those of human, environmental, and social entropy—and does so in a way that is immersive, making the viewer a fully participatory protagonist of the work. Doug has introduced a new conception of narrative based on fragmentation and a new conception of sculpture not in an expanded field, but rather in an expanded time. What is distinctive about this new form is it provides a common ground for audiences, giving a physical space to the idea of communication as what is familiar to many.”

Doug Aitken: Electric Earth comprises seven major, large-scale moving-image installations—from Aitken’s earliest multichannel video installation, diamond sea (1997), to more recent performance-based works such as Black Mirror (2011)—in addition to the live sound installation Sonic Fountain II (2013/2015), numerous sculptures, photographs, collages, a program of single-channel films, and documentation of site-specific architectural projects. It unfolds around the major moving-image installations that articulate the artist’s central thematic concerns—the end of linear time, environmental depredation, unprecedented technological mediation, self-contained and decentralized communication, and the incursion of commerce into our social relationships. The uniqueness of the work reveals itself in Aitken’s mesmerizing treatment of such concerns: he strategically structures architectural environments and edits images and sounds in order to envelop the viewer and overwhelm the senses. In immersive works like SONG 1 (2012/2015), Aitken creates opportunities for the audience to share a communal experience, drawing viewers in through a nearly hypnotic aesthetic and cannily deploying a wide range of visual vocabularies from the realms of cinema, communications, avant-garde music, and the history of art. Conceptualized as an entropic landscape suspended between city, broadcasting machine, and labyrinth, the exhibition is punctuated by the signs, sculptures, and images unbound from vernacular language and culture at the center of Aitken’s art.