Doug Aitken is an artist that uses video and sculpture to explore fascinating questions about the current human experience and its future. It is a real treat to see some of his works right here in Sydney with his NEW ERA exhibition.
Casey and I went to visit the NEW ERA exhibition just the other day and found it, right off the bat, interesting and exciting.
We turned the corner right at the entry and immediately were grasped by Earthwork: Aperture series (2019). This work depicts a desert landscape made using chromogenic transparency on acrylic on an aluminium lightbox with LEDs. It produces an effect that is hard describe. Its illumination makes it feel like daylight is coming from within it, like the desert is emanating from within the piece. It’s hard to justify and explain in either words or pictures, you kind of have to be there.
And this was just a minor work, so from that point on we knew we were in for a treat.
We went into the diamond sea (1997) installation which is a 3-channel video installation. This is Doug Aitkens earliest work on display at the exhibit. You’ll find a massive lightbox depicting the desert in Southern Namibia much like what we saw with Earthwork: Aperture.
The Namibian desert is where a lot of the world’s gem diamonds are mined. Three video projections depict the machines and processes used to gather those diamonds – all while that lightbox keeps the desert always present. You see an intersection of the natural and man-made world, yet there are no humans present. All the machinery is automated.
The area where Aitken took this footage doesn’t even have a name, it’s just called Zone 1 and Zone 2. It’s a fascinating piece that makes you wonder about the nature of the world and our place in it as the world goes on with or without us – even if what is left behind are our own creations.
Next, we visited the titular NEW ERA (2018) installation that became my personal favourite. It has three projected video screens in a room surrounded by mirrors. Your first step in there is both disorienting and yet immediately fascinating.
Our digital lives are beginning to have the same level of importance as our real lives. This work explores that concept, and it really is mesmerising at times to just stand in that room surrounded by screens. No matter where you look, you see a screen.
The Sonic Fountain II is a literal fountain that kind of creates a beat or a minimalist symphony of sorts. It does this by dripping and dropping the water into a puddle using a pre-determined algorithm. This one I can see people dismissing as just an ‘artsy fountain’ which in a way it is, but I don’t remember the last fountain I visited that was dropping beats.
We hit up Underwater Pavilions (2017) which fascinated Casey. This took us on a journey to the underwater world in order to explore the beautiful seascapes there. Aitken stated that the underwater world was one that feels very foreign or alien to most people, yet it isn’t actually. Over 70% of the Earth is underwater after all.
This felt like an environmental piece that simply wanted to explore and appreciate the underwater world. By bringing attention to this world and ensuring viewers that it isn’t as alien and scary as we might have thought, it removes that inherent fear of the unknown which can help people realise the ocean’s importance and fragility. Casey mentioned that she felt it was weirdly ominous, and I think that is true as the ocean itself can be ominous – it hides secrets and power in its depths.
The last video installation we looked at was migration (empire) and for whatever reason, this one did not grab me. The images on the screens were fascinating and well done but it just didn’t connect. I think it might be because of the way it was installed in the MCA. Pillars were in the way of several screens, and it could only really be effectively viewed from one side. I understand that a massive space would be required to do that but still, it felt a little off.
The several sculpture we saw were also brilliant. Like 1968, an absolute highlight made from high-density foam, broken mirrors, and wood. You can view the year as simply Doug Aitken’s birthday, or as a year of pivotal social, historical, and political upheaval. Up to you really.
Doug Aitken’s NEW ERA is a fantastic exhibition to visit if you’re just popping into town for the day. It’s just up the road from several restaurants and cafes to have lunch in once you’re done absorbing some culture.
Casey and I went to The Squire’s Landing for lunch which is a beautiful venue with some pretty good food. If you’re popping in for lunch the menu is a little more straightforward than their restaurant proper, but they do have a nice chicken burger and the gnocchi with capsicum, *mwah*, not bad at all. The best part is the selection of beer as you have every selection of James Squire beer right there on tap. Would recommend it for a day out.
Check out the details on the MCA’s website and go for a visit today before the exhibition leaves on February 6.
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