Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of YoungArts
South East High School

A step into ‘Doug Aitken: Electric Earth’: MOCA’s newest exhibition

Doug Aitken has the ability to transform everyday pictures and objects into extravagant art. As a recipient of the YoungArts award in Visual Arts in 1986, Aitken has a great understanding of art and knows how important it is to all kinds of people, youth in particular.

“Art helps kids grappling with their identity.” Aitken exemplifies what the foundation is all about; his ideas defy the fathomable standards of conventional art. “Push an idea…until it’s collapsing. The medium is the idea, the idea is the medium,” he states. “Make [art] into your own language.”

By creating pieces of grandeur, Aitken has proven that art isn’t a one-dimensional concept; it isn’t limited to blank canvasses and watercolors. “There’s never been a moment in evolution like this,” he said, referring to the transformative process of art. “Where art can go—we don’t have any idea of how elastic that term is.”

Alongside Aitken is Kerry Brougher, a friend of Aitken’s and the first director of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is currently being constructed in Los Angles. Kerry has always been intrigued by the concept of “expanded cinema,” or cinematography that expands beyond just a typical theater. “Art is one of the most important things we do,” Brougher says. “I’m hoping [art] has an influence on the younger generation… it’s being made now, all over the world.”

Kerry Brougher and Doug Aitken discuss a handful of topics involving "Electric Earth." Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of YoungArts.
Kerry Brougher and Doug Aitken discuss a handful of topics involving “Electric Earth.”
Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of YoungArts.

“Electric Earth” is the first of Aitken’s projects to be set in Los Angeles, a cultural center in proximity to his hometown of Redondo Beach. The large space, distinct from other “traditional” gallery spaces in the U.S., stood out to Aitken, meeting his certain criteria for a show and ultimately making it the prime candidate for his first, major “survey show” in Los Angeles.

The Geffen’s space allowed Aitken to stray away from conventional museums, where paintings hang from a wall in a well-lit room. Upon entering the Geffen, one feels overwhelmed by the eccentric beauty that adorns the space. To the left lies a gallery of pictures depicting everyday events; a wide circular screen playing a dramatic sequence of interconnected scenes lies ahead, and to the right, a summary of the exhibition tells one what this crazy ensemble of “liquid form” art is all about and who is the mastermind behind it all. The cryptic sounds that reverberate off the gallery walls further emphasize this new world that Aitken has constructed.

The work of Aitken’s “Electric Earth” defies the typical standards of what is fathomable in art, and focuses on the transformative process of evolution. No matter how articulate, no matter how beautiful, words and pictures are not enough to do justice by “Electric Earth.” It’s something someone has to experience, and while that can be said for the majority of art, Aitken’s is truly one that cannot be replicated in an immersive virtual reality tour. In this magnificent exhibit, all of the distinct works blend beautifully together to form one piece.

“Electric Earth” is primarily focused towards the people who are experiencing the piece, as Aitken relayed.

“I was more interested in the empowerment of the viewer, the idea they would navigate on their own,” Aitken said. Every piece is dramatically and drastically different, from the motion-sensitive twilight to the dynamic nature of electric earth.

“Electric Earth” isn’t a tangible concept. Rather, “Electric Earth” is something you go into, something you live and breathe. Aitken has expressed that he wants the viewers to “fall into a series of [ensuing] encounters.”

Aitken pushes the envelope for what art can become through extensive dedication. While many people believe art tells a story, Aiken challenges that common notion by creating art in which the piece and the story are one entity. He, himself has experienced just how surreal his style of work is.

“I didn’t realize where I was. I’d have to blink twice to recognize I’m in Downtown Los Angeles,” Aiken recalls after finishing installing “Electric Earth.”

Aitken has shared his vision in the hopes that viewers can navigate the labyrinth-like “Electric Earth” in any way they desire and take their personalized experience home.

“Art is like a tree,” Aitken states. “Each branch of the tree is a different idea.” It is evident that Aitken has succeeded in creating those branches. They move on their own, they have their own identity and can live on its own. “[It’s] not static art…more liquid form [art],” said Aitken.

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located in Downtown Los Angeles’ historic Little Tokyo district, will house “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth” until January of next year. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of YoungArts
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located in Downtown Los Angeles’ historic Little Tokyo district, will house “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth” until January of next year.
Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging, courtesy of YoungArts

Quotes in this piece were taken from an interview between Doug Aitken and Kerry Brougher. The interview was conducted by Brougher and presented by the National YoungArts Foundation. For more information on the foundation, visit www.youngarts.org.

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