A central throughline in Doug Aitken’s genre-defying practice is the artist’s ongoing exploration of the encounters, connections, and frictions between individuals and the urban, industrial, and natural worlds. His 2008 film migration (empire) explores the complex relationship between the American wilderness and the sprawling built environment, asking what happens when the natural and man-made collide. In a series of surreal vignettes, interspersed with images of industrial landscapes, wild North American migratory animals have taken up residence in vacant motel rooms. These animals engage with their new environs according to their instincts, with humorous, sometimes heart-rending results. Filmed across the United States in roadside motels—ubiquitous structures that present powerful allegories of transience, mobility, and the westward expansion that has dramatically displaced and reduced animal populations in North America—migration (empire) asks us to consider our own infringement on the natural world.
migration (empire), 2008; single-channel video installation (color, sound), one projection, steel, and PVC screen billboard sculpture; courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich; Victoria Miro, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles
From photography and film to installations and monumental public interventions, Doug Aitken’s genre-defying practice seeks to create a new landscape, one in which we can find points of anchor and experience a sense of connection. His work has been exhibited internationally, and his honors include the International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennale and the 2017 Frontier Art Prize.
Photo credit: Ami Sioux