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The Source - Doug Aitken


Exhibition review for Photomonitor.co.uk (January 2013)


Acclaimed Californian artist Doug Aitken more than lived up to the high expectations surrounding his first public-realm work in the UK.  The Source was hailed as one of the highlights of the Tate Liverpool Biennale.  Housed in a temporary pavilion separate from the museum and custom-made in collaboration with British architect David Adjaye, it was Aitken’s intention to “create a new cultural destination…that empowered the viewer”.  To complement the opening of The Source, the Sky Arts channel handed the programming of its Ignition Series over to the artist for 24 hours during which Aitken aired live performances by the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Beck, along with films by Buñuel and Fassbinder, amongst other seminal, innovative offerings.


The bold and unique premise for The Source was a similar enterprise: a series of informal interviews conducted (and sumptuously filmed) by the artist with other artists across diverse disciplines including, but not limited to, painting, sculpture, and sonic art.  Interviewees were chosen by Aitken as some of the most influential and innovative creatives working today including, among others: William Eggleston (photography), Jacques Herzog (architecture), Tilda Swinton (acting) and Jack White (music).  The placement of the pavilion in Mermaid Court, next to the largest single grouping of English Grade 1 listed buildings was both eye-catching and provocative.  Aitken likened the project to “walking into a field of ideas” in his attempt to discover the source of each artist’s creativity and to locate a common ground between creative endeavours.


A round bench in the centre of the circular structure invited viewers to engage with six looped films projected large from floor to ceiling, simultaneously and adjacent to one another.  The cacophony of voices created the sensation of sitting in the middle of multiple virtual chat rooms.  Alluding to the ever-increasing flow of information in our technological era, the visceral disorientation and discomfort that ensued was relieved only when the viewer tuned into one screen, walking toward it in order to hear more clearly; thus by design, encouraging the viewer to make deliberate (physical) choices as they engaged with the project.  The same films were projected through to the outside of the building as day turned to night, but without sound, yielding yet another perspective, and prompting the viewer to reflect on his own altered sense of perception.


Neither documentary nor straightforward installation, Aitken’s own concerns are revealed through the choice of interviewee combined with tight edits (interviews were 4 minutes long, distilled from two hours) that deliver nuggets of the most salient points.  Common themes of fragmentation, repetition, cross-fertilisation, the influence of one’s environment, and the importance of following one’s instinct find resonance both within Aitken’s oeuvre as well as those of his contemporaries.  Long a proponent of expanded cinema and non-linear narrative, Aitken succeeds in maintaining this experimental approach to film-making through his ability to tap into the shifting nature of our perception, as well as thematically using the power of technology to his advantage in our media-saturated world.  That his work resonates on so many levels, and encourages both bodily and intellectual engagement is impressive.


The viewer is empowered through Aitken’s ambition to make the exclusive, often self-referential art-world more accessible, both through the demystification of the creative process as seen in each film, as well as through the project’s open-ended platform that invites the viewer to make choices within the work: who, how much, when, etc.  ln keeping with the wider democratisation heralded by the internet age, Aitken’s work seems to be ushering in a growing movement, one that makes good use of the fragmentary sound-bite as a kernel of information to be digested at the viewer’s discretion, thereby elevating the everyman into a position where he can choose rather than be lost in a sea of information.  The Source becomes a manifesto on perception in a fragmented and fluctuating world and alludes to our interior lives, which indeed are non-linear, with time, space and memory as fluid concepts that are constantly in flux. The true power of the work however lies in its exploration of our lived 21st century contemporary existence, offering new perspectives on how to navigate in times of unprecedented change.



Also see Naomi's interview with Dr Sook-Kyung Lee, who curated Doug Aitken's Tate Liverpool Biennale exhibition: http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2013/01/exhibition-and-displays-curator-tate-liverpool/

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'Sky Arts Ignition: Doug Aitken - The Source' 2012 installation view outside Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool. © Doug Aitken. Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Image © Charlie Coleman, Infinite 3D


William Eggleston (b1939, Memphis) – photographer

© Doug Aitken , Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles..