I Only Have Eyes for… Electric Earth

By Erika Hirugami, MAAB | Founder & CEO at CuratorLove

Song 1 (still from video), by Doug Aitken

Song 1 (still from video), by Doug Aitken

Over the past couple of weeks, I must admit I have developed a mild addiction to Electric Earth. A survey exhibition on Doug Aitken’s career as curated by Philippe Vergne Director of MOCA, currently on view at MOCA-Geffen. As of now its only been open about twenty days and I have already witnessed it several times; each time however I seem to have an entirely different experience, yet somehow manage to leave Geffen more enamored then when I initially arrived. 

Song 1 welcomes everyone into MOCA-Geffen, a circular-all-immersive screen video installation playing the song I Only Have Eyes For You; which is displaying a 35min video made of fragments, instances in which a plethora of characters re-imagine the same song over and over again, song which has been meshed into a singular cohesive melody. Tilda Swinton and Devendra Banhart are amongst the individuals featured in this piece. The intoxicating experience entranced me upon arrival, it immediately granted me a zen-like state of consciousness, which I don’t think I have ever experience downtown. Song 1 permeates the entire landscape at MOCA-Geffen, as if playing in the background to every single artwork in the entire exhibition, or serving as a needed pause between video installations.

Electric Earth lacks a beginning or a logical design by which to be experienced, thus exploring the labyrinthine gallery spaces becomes a wondrous journey; an aesthetic exploration of sound and moving image installations that blends emotion and perception seamlessly with epic levels of cinematic craftsmanship, geometric sound, chromogenic aluminum light boxes, resin casted pay phones that sense the viewer, black mirrors that create infinite spaces, billboards displayed at eye level and flickering neon signs. As Aitken himself mentioned in conversation with Vergne, “I wanted to empower the viewer to get lost and become absorbed in the different narratives… so the viewer can be the author of their own experience.”

Twilight by Doug Aitken

Twilight by Doug Aitken

Yesterday, I lost myself in Electric Earth for about four hours, and I was unable to fully enjoy all of the artworks it has to offer. The countless installations seem to go on forever in the best of ways. As Aitken himself stated,

We are experiencing time in a different way now in terms of information…. the moment when we stop and turn everything off, we find ourselves alone in an almost greater silence. This expansion and compression of time moves us toward alternative forms of perception.

As I delved into Black Mirror, Migration or even just walking around Song 1 my perception of time was significantly distorted. It even managed to make me hide away my personal technology, there is no real need for it, not in this space, I was surrounded by video installations after all. The information I was visually receiving satiated my inner most needs to be constantly plugged in, but unlike my iPhone this one filled me with a sense of inner peace. This exhibition somehow managed to stop me on my tracks, turn me off to the universe outside of MOCA-Geffen, and fed me a constant string of information that was simultaneously making me question my perception while removing outside stimuli. The universe outside of Geffen actually ceased to exist for a few hours.  

Migration (still) by Doug Aitken | Image courtesy of Regen Projects 

Migration (still) by Doug Aitken | Image courtesy of Regen Projects 

Migration for instance, which is astonishingly displayed in a series of billboards, had me questioning my own patterns of comfort within foreign spaces. The 24min video shows the interactions of various animals inside a motel room, an owl, a beaver, an eagle, bunnies, and even a horse, all find themselves destroying a motel room in one way or another during this linear video installation. While watching it I wondered if the next time I find myself in a motel, I will make sure there are no beavers in my bathtub. But as I spoke to my companion about the potential of this being filmed on-site versus having a set constructed for the purposes of this installation, I also began to wondered how much of this perceived reality I was in fact constructing out of my own information, and how much of the same was being presented to me as a mere informative reality of an imagined truth.

Black Mirror by Doug Aitken

Black Mirror by Doug Aitken

Whereas Black Mirror, which stars Chloë Sevigny (rumored to make an impromptu appearance at Geffen during this exhibition) kindly reminded me of how illogical it is to perceive motion as my place in time and geographical location is constantly changing. Departure appeared to be a deconstruction of the sense of geographical perspective. Within it a traveling Sevigny moves from place to place, but in fact Aitken removes all visual signifiers of a specific locations from the video itself, leaving the viewer to wonder where exactly this all takes place. Losing Baggage is another distortion of linear time, in which the awareness of the same is reinvented with a series of images that again manages to stretch time into an amorphous concept. New Condition however directly confronts the general concept of time “next year, ten years from now, or things like that.”

1968 | House by Dough Aitken 

1968 | House by Dough Aitken 

One of the most intriguing factors that re-appeared through the entire exhibition was a constant use of re-purposed video imagery, glances from Song 1 informed Black Mirror, which in turn informed other installations. Similar instances or glances into moments from one installation carried onto the next. Each interweaving moments from one room to the next, from one artwork to another. It was almost as if the more I delved into the exhibition the more it unraveled in front of my eyes. The more it gave me, the more it fed my need to dive in and possess fragments of a whole I cannot fully piece together. Each song, each instance, each glance into a mirror or the flickering neon, each photograph carried me deeper and deeper in an endless exploration of time that warped my perception of itself. The more I saw, the more I questioned. The more I learned, the more distorted my view became of all the information I was being fed through all these multiple channels. As previously mentioned I was there circa four hours, of which I perceived less than a fourth. It was not until my companion pointed to the time that I realized how long we had been there.

Sonic Fountain by Doug Aitken Installation video courtesy of Vaughan Risher.

The crown jewel of the exhibition is without a doubt Sonic Fountain. Tucked in one of the corners of Geffen exists an installation so magnificent that the museum structure had to be dismantled for it to come alive. Sonic Fountain is a water installation which tore open the floor at MOCA-Geffen to give way for a white pool of light that is being activated by a geometric pattern of water that drips from rods suspended from the ceiling. The patterns being created by the water, shifts in volume and speed to create a cavernous sound amplified by the chaotic surroundings of the gallery space which it inhabits; the aftermath of demolition lies all around the space, pieces of shattered concrete and a number of other destroyed elements give way for its existence. The entropy of its conception lies all around the cacophonous room, disrupting the museum from the inside in the most wonderful way.

Furthermore, the activation of the Underwater Pavilions said to inhabit a marine preserve off Avalon in Catalina Island is another iteration of this exhibition that I am very much looking forward to, which is due to open by the end of October as per the public conversation between Aitken and Vergne that took place during Electric Earth’s opening week.

This adventure of mine, this affair I seem to be indulging on with Electric Earth is one I have yet to fully complete. It is save to say I will return to Geffen, head to Avalon and continue to quench this thirst, this newly-found addiction to a quasi-illogical warped perception of time and space that can only be satiated by delving deep within the confines of this exhibition.

But for now Electric Earth is “here… and so am I.”


End by Doug Aitken

End by Doug Aitken

More by Doug Aitken 

More by Doug Aitken