Doug Aitken’s Nature-Less Landscapes

  • Installation view of “Doug Aitken” at Victoria Miro.

What might Land Art look like in metropolitan 2015? Doug Aitken’s eponymous exhibition at Victoria Miro poses this question and offers a few intriguing—if partial—answers. New Land (blue field/white holes V) and New Land (blue field/white holes III) (both 2015), evoke the surface of the moon doused in lurid blue: barren, unforgiving yet not without eerie beauty. Entirely synthetic in material yet made by hand, these “earth works for the 21st century” are nature-less landscapes, raising questions of what constitutes landscape in our increasingly virtual world.

  • Installation view of “Doug Aitken” at Victoria Miro.

Nature and artifice are folded into one another again in Eyes closed, wide awake (sonic fountain II) (2014), a freestanding sculpture that adopts the form of stalactites and stalagmites, complete with dripping water. A microphone positioned inside the piece amplifies the drips, a touch that might transport the viewer to a dank cave were the work not positioned in a London gallery and finished in powder-coated steel. Pumping water through its system on a loop, the drip-drip-drip is a constant presence in the exhibition space, meting out time and drawing awareness to its passing.

The two text-based works displayed, END (mirror) (2014) and NOW (blue mirror) (2014), continue Aitken’s work with mirrors both literal and notional. The multichannel video installation Black Mirror (2011), previously shown at Victoria Miro, also sought to explore the bewildering landscape of modern life, the mirror in this case conjuring an endless present in which physical and virtual reflect one another in infinite regress. A subsequent project by Aitken, MIRROR (2013) at the Seattle Art Museum saw giant screens affixed to the exterior of the museum and fed information from the city. Weather patterns, pedestrian traffic, and atmospheric conditions from the building’s surroundings were visualized on screen, turning the building into a mirror of its environment.

The exhibition sets out to explore contemporary ideas of time as well as place. The crystalline appearance of the text-based works recalls J.G Ballard’s novel The Crystal World, in which time begins a delicious process of arrest. Each letter’s reflective surface captures its surroundings and locks them into a fractured hall of mirrors. These pieces, then, do not simply reflect or embody their surroundings but exacerbate existing conditions in order to make them more visible to us. A land art for 2015 is a kaleidoscope through which we might connect with our disjointed present.

—Laura Purseglove

Doug Aitken” is on view at Victoria Miro, London, Jun. 12–Jul. 31, 2015.

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