featured image of 3 Modern Figures 2 - Poetic Transformation: Doug Aitken’s First Solo Exhibition in China

How to describe the epochal transformations is a question worthy of discussion within the exhibition of Doug Atiken which is on display at Faurschou, Beijing. The moving images reflected in the overlapping pictures, the pulsating light and shadow in the bodies, the cane of a spiritual sculpture, these three installations in the spacious galleries make viewers stop, ponder, and act surprised. The solo exhibition by the American artist Doug Atiken, organized by the FAURSCHOU FOUNDATION, is the artist’s first solo exhibition in mainland China. It is not certain that this premiere is the most essential expression of the artist, the author thinks it should be explored from the perspective of the artist and his work.

Doug Atiken was born in the United States in 1968 and he is a multimedia artist. From his first solo exhibition presented by the 303 Gallery in New York in 1994 to his first solo exhibition in mainland China today, Doug Atiken and his work has gradually become familiar to art lovers. In 1997, his first multimedia work, Diamond Sea, began with a curious story presented through video installation on a “blank spot” in Namibia after he had observed a map of South Africa. In 2000, Doug Atiken’s new media artwork Glass Horizon cast a pair of eyes on the outer wall of the Secession Art Center in Vienna.

For the first time, he combined digital media with outdoor architecture to explore the diversified expressive ways of urban architecture. Aitken’s multimedia works cover a wide array of mediums, integrating film, sound, photography, sculpture, performance, happenings and site-specific installations. His creations lead narrative films, sound recordings, single-channel or multi-channel video works and installations to more ambitious and expansive buildings, sculptures, installations and natural landscape spaces.

Three works from different perspectives make the exhibition seem to be mysterious and they take you places that language cannot fully articulate. When entering an exhibition that does not provide too many clues, it is very interesting and beneficial to understand and construct the logic of this exhibition through his work. What is expressed in post-modern art and what the viewers feel has the same value. Doug Atiken is good at using his work to describe a poetic transformation. In the exhibition at FAURSCHOU FOUNDATION, Doug Atiken is also describing the meaning of the transformation.

The Transformation from the Industrial Era to the Digital Age: The moving images reflected in the overlapping pictures—NEW ERA

After diving into the dark passage, entering the first room of the gallery, the dynamic light and shadow repeatedly overlap into the visual aspect around the hexagonal replacement mirror and viewers were stopped by the inexplicable dizziness to watch NEW ERA. The artist used a certain amount of thought and invited Martin Cooper, the very first inventor of the mobile phone, to be included in the video. He invented the first mobile phone in 1973. The film was inspired by his research and dialogue with the ubiquitous device inventor and the artist woven into the story of Cooper using a poetic narrative about human history and the future [1]. The mobile phone becomes key words for understanding the exhibition, and it also connects his works. The narrative of images in a deconstructive way splice the short and symbolic images, using abstract concepts to restore freedom and loneliness in the internet world. As the mirrored overlapping images and viewers create narrative plots that splice into the moving image, with the display in such a space and the narrative of the image, highlighting the expression of the concepts of interconnection and freedom in historical moments. The fragmented visual symbols and concepts extracted from the images, describe how the era after the mobile phone was invented and changed people.

Transformation from the Material to the Non-material: Pulsating Light and Shadow in Bodies—3 Modern Figures (dont forget to breathe)

These three people who have forgotten to breathe have a relationship in the interconnection of digital technologies, but they are isolated from each other in the physical space. They are presented in an ever-changing juxtaposition between isolation and absolute interconnection.

Transformation from the Quickly Changing Society to Moral Twilight: The Cane of Spiritual Sculpture—Cross the Border

Upon stepping into the third space, a visitor encounters a rock-and-concrete sculpture nearly 4 meters high that stands in a pool of water. The sculpture is presented in the form of silhouette. The main body of the outline is the idol of the “non-violent and non-cooperative movement” of India, Mahatma Gandhi. The sculpture is called Cross the Border. The monumental sculpture has an opening at its edge, and water flows from the gap in the slate. Water droplets drip from above to the pool, producing a rapid sound of water, echoing in the air. The stationary material was transformed into a dynamic waterfall. Gandhi’s cane is made of hollow resin, with the interior filled with rhythmic optoelectronics. The rapid sound of water and the flashing light and shadow are the metaphors of the rapid developments in modern society. The moral and spiritual carrier of Mahatma Gandhi is referred to by a huge sculpture. The morality and spirit of the past gradually turn to the twilight in modern society with rapid developments. How can we confront the increasingly declining spiritual home in the increasingly over-interconnected digital age?


The three works in this exhibition reveal the transformation of three concepts through the connections between the three spaces. The exhibition starts from the invention of the mobile phone, reflecting the state of human synchronization and non-synchronization in the technological age, and it again takes three modern people as the breaking point, reflecting the dilemma of human interconnection and isolation in society, and it concludes with Cross the Border, once again questioning how the digital high-speed society dissolves the moral and spiritual existence of history. The exhibition created a fragmented narrative of today’s digital contemporary landscapes [2] and the transformations in narratives in these works are aesthetic, speculative, and poetic. Doug Atiken prefers to show the social upheaval brought about by the industrial age to the digital age, which affects the ways we breathe, walk, watch and listen. In this landscape, Doug Atiken’s works are signposts, making the spectator pause, stop and evaluate their surroundings.

Text by Lin Lu, translated and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

The pictures of the works are provided by the organizer except the labeled ones.

[1, 2] Source: Manual on Doug Artiken Solo Exhibition provided by FAURSCHOU FOUNDATION

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