Notes on Nomad Art

‘Why are we making things to exist inside buildings only?’ asks DOUG AITKEN, a mould-breaking artist whose multimedia productions have regularly broken out of commercial gallery spaces, even getting on a train for his Station to Station project. KATYA TYLEVICH boards the Aitken express. See full interview in Elephant Magazine Issue #21.

…his epic Station to Station project, which takes off in September 2013 as a a train (‘a moving, kinetic light sculpture’), whose freight was art, music, architecture, culture and conversations. Over the course of a month, the train moved from New York to San Francisco with stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis, Santa Fe and five other American cities along the way, marked by events or ‘happenings’ at each destination. …Aitken is interested in having the ground fall from beneath the viewer, in taking away the stability of place, the support of walls or even the parameters of who exactly does the talking and when.

Do you have a shorthand way to describe the way you work as an artist? No, I’ve never been able to define myself by a medium, as working in one way or one aesthetic, although I really do have a great deal of respect for ‘the idea’, in and of itself. The question I think about is: if there’s an idea or an impulse, how do you allow it to grow and become its own language?

Does this mean your work is conceptual? Some of it touches on the birth of conceptual art, which was very much about the purity of concept: early conceptual art is not about the aesthetic, style or medium, it’s just about the idea. And if it’s strong and provocative enough, or asks a haunting question, then that idea will find a way out. In that case, the artist has to think like an architect and create a structure for that idea to get out there in its purest form. Right now is a fascinating time to be making art – or anything. In terms of communication and how ideas are distributed, we’re in a revolutionary moment. We’re moving away from a linear way of working.

Does that accurately reflect the way ideas are formed, naturally? … It’s a continual process of breaking and remaking. There’s a moment with most projects, in which an art work actually starts putting up resistance, as if it wants to create itself. As an artist, your job is to shepherd the work into existence. Artwork never just comes out of any artist’s solitude or social interaction, it comes out of its necessity to exist.

Within your own works, what exactly has a ‘necessity exist’? For example, Station to Station needed to exist in order to create a new space for experimentation in culture. Culture has become segregated: you’ve got film over here, contemporary art over there, music elsewhere. Much of the segregation comes from capitalism, and the fact that a capitalist structure creates a marketplace, a series of jobs or a kind of micro-industry. You see the strange rubble that’s become of the music industry because of it; and you see contemporary art, with its galleries and art fairs, which is another form of very aggressive capitalism. … Station to Station is based on the principle that if you create a nomadic platform where systems are moving and changing all the time, and you no longer feel the weight of the system that you’re working in, the result could be a freer place for exchange. At that point, the ground falls and your eyes open. Maybe you become more aware of everything around you, the details of it, the details of your surroundings. … When you’re displaced, there’s a sense of newness, an invigorated quality around you. … [This project] was originally supposed to be open at a major museum, but they tore the museum down for construction. There’s no museum. And in a funny way, that’s exactly what I wanted. The museum is all over the city now, and one idea is to ave the project all over the city, too. This allows the viewer to discover the installation – come across it – as opposed to going to see it in an institution. It’s been very interesting to think about positioning these pieces, which are very hallucinatory and holographic. They take viewers through the worlds of sound and moving images.

With this project and others, such as Station to Station, is it important to you that the people seeing your artworks aren’t necessarily those who would have come to a gallery opening? …as people, we shouldn’t be contained. Why are we making things to exist inside buildings only? Where does the role of walls and buildings actually play into what we create? I think someone like Joseph Beuys would be an advocate of the idea that art is everywhere and can permeate everything; that there’s a kind of potentiality in everything to be transformed. I think that’s where we’re going in some ways. That’s what we’re all looking forward to.

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