BY Sydney Pokorny in Reviews | 06 NOV 94
Featured in
Issue 19

Doug Aitken

BY Sydney Pokorny in Reviews | 06 NOV 94

Speed, according to Paul Virilio, dissolves human will, producing an accelerated world filled with passengers locked in a zombie-like trance. Life in Virilio's vision machine is marked by our 'dis-appearance into a holiday where there's no tomorrow', just an endless rehearsal of today's stretched out and held over indefinitely. In his latest exhibition, Doug Aitken's two audio/video installations, Autumn and American International, (both works 1994) present a world carved from such a 'nihilism of speed.' Drained by aimless perpetual motion, Aitken's subjects are not action figures, but rather hollowed objects, hurtling through space, completely detached from the world and seemingly unaware of their own existence.

The characters in the video Autumn are shown moving, but lacking any final destination. Aitken's disjunctive images deny narrative, suggesting instead possibilities that never bloom into certainties. The wing of a plane fills the screen; the roar of a jet engine pours from the sound system. Both hint that a trip has occurred, but we are never clued into whether we witness departure or return, takeoff or landing. A boy rides a bike. A girl cruises through the suburban night in a car with a driver we never see, her head bobbing to music we can't hear. Both affect a vacant, dull stare. Sustained by Aitken's ambient soundtrack, the boy and girl seemingly float across the landscape, drifting neither toward nor away from one another.

Closing the gap between MTV's Buzz Bin and SoHo gallery, Autumn is composed of two phases. The first emerged from one of Aitken's music videos; the second was filmed sometime later, when the model featured in the video watches herself in playback. The only clue that time has elapsed is the newly dyed head of the model. Aitken's appropriation of his music video is not part of a critical narrative, it simply represents an intersection. Autumn ends with a shot of the female model's eye, but in her glassy-eyed stare, we read only reflections. She, like Autumn as a whole, exists only as a mirror image of youth as created by pop culture.

Fury Eyes, the video portion of American International features motorcyclist Ron Fringer attempting to reach the blistering speed of 190 mph on a bike pumped with nitro-methylene and alcohol. However, instead of suggesting speed, the images and sounds of Fury Eyes are indications of its absence. The crushing sound of an engine revving spills over the viewer, while on the screen, white smoke billows from spinning tyres. Repeated shots of rotating wheels follow, accompanied by slow, drawn out scenes of forward motion. Fringer is nonetheless standing still, the opposite of the pure speed racer he seeks to be. In segments taken from a camera mounted on the motorcycle, Fringer finally comes up to speed. He is shown straddling his bike, hurtling through space, the picture wobbling and breaking up. At around 175 mph we lose him altogether as the recording equipment gives out. Here Aitken inserts footage he shot in his role as Director of Photography on Cindy Crawford's exercise video, Cindy Crawford: The Next Challenge. Distracted by the lights and camera attending a true star, we lose track of Fringer, forgetting even to wonder if he ever reached his goal.

Aitken culls his material from both the mundane trash of white male suburban culture and his own commercial work. Both of Aitken's installations feature technologies familiar to the average remote control-wielding male. Ultimately, this familiarity mutates and the expected conclusion is twisted into something strange and puzzling. Provided with the hallmarks of a typical boy-meets girl-story we find only a set of circumstances linking boy and girl to the general location: they never meet. The story is left without any ending at all.