Doug Aikten: New Ocean: Thaw
Espace Vuitton, Tokyo
November 13, 2020- February 07, 2021
This 2001 piece by American artist Doug Aitken is part of the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s ‘Hors-les-murs’ programme which consists of showing works from their collection at their Espaces Vuitton in Europe and Asia. It serves a number of purposes as artists this year are either unable or not allowed to travel while the works can and do. It is to the Espace Tokyo’s credit to have maintained access to contemporary art during this unrelenting year, albeit in stretches of three months at a time. Which raises a tangent issue that has to do with the actual modest number of exhibitions -of contemporary practices- currently on display in Tokyo. In a city that has not experienced extended periods of confinement, that remains careful, though at the time of this writing figures have climbed in other areas of Japan, its listing of shows is a short one. But venues from Vuitton to Hermès carry on.
And after store staff measure the visitors’ temperature, a clever encounter takes place with an Aitken piece deceptively experimental and non-narrative, not unlike a Michael Snow film. New Ocean: thaw is a Californian’s look at Alaska vistas with sound design that recalls Peter Greenaway’s 1984 short Making a Splash without the Michael Nyman score. It is a pristine installation, in a closed and dimly lit white space, giving it the blue hue of the glaciers melting and the drops plopping, with snow covered valleys staging an arena over the six screens that make up the piece, on each side of the room, forming an arc with an opening in the middle for the spectator. Unless one turns to face a wall, or the exit, the field vision is occupied by something that is too formally conceived to find its way harmoniously within a current anthropocene discussion, which prefers its nature less mediated. Ultimately, it finds its place in Aitken’s use of media to investigate the moving image as cultural production, a theme that will come to the foreground in later and more explicitly filmic and narrative works. It does not convey vastness nor a threatened ecosystem though it doesn’t pretend to ignore it. But as a 20°C December and Aitken’s Thaw point to, the winter which is coming is a warmer one.