Saturday, January 20, 2007

Doug Aitken's Sleepwalkers

It's with a little bit of trepidation that I add to the writing about this latest artsy-thing-to-do-outside-in-the-winter-in-New-York. After all, I woke up yesterday morning to a great Fishko Files segment on WNYC about how being surprised by art, happening upon it without having known about it ahead of time, feeling the little thrill of discovery, is a rarer thing these days in the world of mass media. Rare but not entirely gone. I'd imagine there are still those who can happen upon the MoMA in the coming weeks and not catch the banners highlighting the name of the art and artist and be mildly perplexed at the images of five different actors "sleepwalking" through their days, projected on the outsides of the museum.

In a normal drive-in movie of Americana, you pull up to a big open field laid out before one screen on a warm summer night and get the audio track pumped in to your car, one way or another. In this New York version of a drive-in, you walk up, are faced with multiple screens that you can never see all at once, showing a silent series of interlocking films, and you get to stand around outside in the cold that's finally descended upon the city, just in time for Aitken's exhibit.

My favorite contrast was how the people sitting inside the pricey, candlelit, glassed-in Modern restaurant must've felt at the sight of us outside in the dark, the bundled observers, allowed in to the scuplture garden for free to witness some (but not all) of the screens flickering above the diners. The idea of "sleepwalkers" takes on another mythico-cinematic element in us, who were like zombies pacing around in the gloom while the elite sit inside and try to pretend the world (or the world of some imagined movie) isn't coming to an end. I also liked seeing tiny puffs of cloud floating through the viewing space immediately above the two middle screens and carved out by the Museum Tower condos and adjacent buildings, especially when they'd happen to appear in tandem with clouds in the art.

The movie, again, is silent, yet I craved some sort of soundtrack. My first thought was Philip Glass' Koyaanisqatsi, another wordless film with moving images of people and landscapes, although on a much grander scale. I selected it on my iPod, but found it disappointing. The mood was wrong. Glass had failed me! I hit Shuffle. Gounod's "Ave Maria" seemed like a plausible alternative, but it turned out to be too uplifting and hopeful for a media work that's mood is more middling in perspective, the characters more this-is-what-I-do-I-do-not-question-it. Finally, I hit on a somewhat cinematic-sounding excerpt from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 by Villa-Lobos (it was "Dance. Memory of the Desert" for those keeping score at home). This at last was the closest thing I could get to matching how it felt to watch Aitken's work. There were even times when the rhythm of the music synched with the cuts on screen. I'd be interested to know if other people have iPod-ed this art on their own, and what pieces they've come up with.

The thing I came away with from the work was this sense that we all do things -- as in small actions, movements, gestures -- every day that are analagous to those of other people, perhaps at the same time of the day, perhaps not long before or after. Aitken makes this obvious in some ways at the beginning of each 13-minute cycle with actors doing the same exact things: opening their eyes, moving their hands, lifting themselves from bed. But I liked it better when the connections were more oblique. When Donald Sutherland was tap dancing on the roof of a cab. And Cat Power was pirouetting. And Seu Jorge was twirling a lasso. And Tilda Swinton was bowing a violin. And the other guy was drumming on industrial buckets. OK, so it's just slightly less obvious than before, but there are other subtler moments throughout that highlight the invisible connections that create patterns in all our lives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

here's a link to the Fishko Files story about discovering something new
Fishko Files