Exhibition Review: A New Era by Doug Aitken

Exhibition Review: A New Era by Doug Aitken

 © Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

© Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

Exhibition Review: A New Era by Doug Aitken

By Ilana Jael

The video installation that is the central element of Doug Aitken’s A New Era at 303 Galleries on 555 W 21 St in Chelsea is the first by the artist to be presented in New York in 10 years, and it was one well worth waiting for, and well worth checking out before it closes this May 25. Even before it begins, viewers are struck by the unique, immersive space, a “hexagonal pavilion built into the gallery space, featuring three projectors set opposite to three mirrored walls.” This “liquid environment” prompts the viewer to “enter” to screen, now “no longer a spectator but an interlocutor” in Aitken’s “hallucinatory world”.

The film then begins with some dislocating shots of city highways captured from above before transitioning into a set of intimate close-ups on protagonist and inventor Mark Cooper. His narration begins with his remembrance of the fateful day on which he, standing on 6th avenue near the Hilton Hotel, made a phone call; the first public cell phone call in history. The image on screen transitions into one of an old-fashioned Motorola phone. Then, the bass drops in the manner of a disco remix as Cooper’s words begin to repeat rhythmically; the Motorola image replicates and then begins to kaleidoscope, almost as if dancing.

 © Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

© Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

Yet this is actually a rather pedestrian sight compared to some of those ahead of us. As Cooper’s voiceover continues the screen dissolves into a disorienting series of crisscrossing neon lines and abstract, careening pixels. Representing the fragmentation of our digital age, these glowing creations are interspersed with gorgeously rendered shots of the natural world; crashing waves, cavernous canyons, mysterious, sandy slopes. Some of these tranquil picturesque scencescapes are marked; one might say marred; by the presence of cell phone base stations. As one of these base stations is seen eclipsing a sweltering sun, we may wonder around which of these objects our modern world more aptly revolves.

This juxtaposition too, evokes the lurking danger of climate change and the fear that our recklessness in pursuit of technological advancement could ultimately lead to a world in which such natural wonders are confined to our screens. Both types of images certainly prompt awe and reflection; but rather ironically, I found that I was taking pictures of them on my cell phone and recording these reflections in its “Notes” section. And, I noticed, I was far from the only one. Despite the ample stimulation around us, few of us could bear even a few minutes unplugged.

 © Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

© Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

Perhaps another role of the space’s mirrors is then to highlight the fact that we are not only observers of the technological overtake that Aitken examines but eventually become an integral part of it. Also on view in an adjacent corridor to the high-tech screening room is Jungle, an “utterly hypnotic, addictive, and unsettling” electric neon sculpture that flashes its title in “seemingly endless variations”. This seems to further represent the entrancing nature of technology that Aitken’s film examines as well as the glittering perils of the “urban jungle” that has all but replaced the literal jungles lived in by our ancestors.

Martin Cooper ends his reflection by imagining a future that is even grimmer; in which we have “trouble finding the individual” and have actually become one with our devices, merging into one singular, all-powerful entity that controls everything.

“We’re going to become Gods” he worries, his footsteps echoing ominously to eerie music as red dots loom over us on screen.

But perhaps implied by Aitken’s flourishes is a more unsettling possibility still; in the fundamental, irreversible alterations Cooper and we have already doomed, maybe his dark prophecy has already come true.

 © Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

© Doug Aitken: New Era, 303 Gallery, New York, April 13 – May 25, 2018.

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