Aitken's video serves as the catalyst for a concurrent exhibition (9 June–30 September 2018) of artworks drawn from the museum’s collection.
In his video migration (empire), Los Angeles based artist Doug Aitken intermixes footage of U.S. industrial landscapes with unexpected scenes of indigenous wild animals confined in roadside motel rooms normally reserved for wayfaring people. Removed from their habitats but drawing on their natural instincts, these undomesticated animals interact alone or in like pairs with the room’s furnishings, spaces, and environs. Unsurprisingly, droll incidents occur. A horse watches a herd of wild horses running freely across the landscape on a television; a beaver enjoys a bathtub filled with water; an owl stares transfixed as the feathers of a pillow rain down upon it. Aitken links these assorted vignettes together by repeating particular imagery and motifs.
Throughout its 24 minutes, the video considers the effects of America’s westward expansion and its impact on the landscape. The sterile habitat of the motels and the animals’ displacement from their native environments underscore this theme and serve as allegories to the lost freedom of a bygone era and the complexity of society today. Although no people are seen, their presence is both implied and felt. Televisions, coffee machines, and lamps have been turned on, doors and refrigerators opened, and bathtubs filled for the animal occupants, who serve as our pseudo-surrogates. The visual splendor of these animals and the formal beauty of the video as a whole are both mesmerizing and affecting.
Image: Doug Aitken, still from migration (empire), 2008
© Doug Aitken, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; and Victoria Miro, London/Venice