ARTIST INTERVIEW: DOUG AITKEN. By Helen Stoilas.
The Californian on Darwin, DNA, Ruscha’s cactus omelettes and never having enough time.
Time must run differently for Doug Aitken. When I talked to him on the phone, the Californian artist had recently wrapped up his idealistic, collaborative, experimental project Station to Station, which took him on a cross-country trip aboard an LED-streaked train with dozens of other artists and musicians, stopping at ten points along the way to create spontaneous happenings and performances. But there is no rest for the artist; Aitken has already started work on another major project. When I call, the ventilation system in the space where he is working drowns out the ringtone of his mobile phone.
“When you called earlier, I wasn’t able to answer the phone because there’s this workshop down the street from my studio that I go to, which allows me to work on a piece with my hands in this factory space,” he says. “That’s as simple as it gets almost… going into a space where you’re carving something and there’s no one there, a dirt floor and bars of lights, and you’re making a sculpture and nothing more. It balances everything out, it empowers you to work in a way where nothing becomes too precious so you can allow yourself to take greater risks.”
This shifting of gears from simple to complicated, frenetic to serene, is at the centre of Aitken’s practice, which results in work ranging from video and sound installations that can cover entire museum façades (note the plural), to text-based sculptures, to happenings that bring the viewer face-to-face with lightning-tongued auctioneers, a professional whip-cracker and acrobatic pole-dancers...