It feels like a thousand years, though I know it’s only been about five minutes. Feet balancing atop five-inch heels on the loose gravel floor, my ankles quiver unsteadily as I clench every muscle in my legs to avoid toppling into Jeffrey Deitch’s back. This misstep would surely initiate a domino-like collapse of the well-coiffed Who’s Who that is gathering inside Regen Projects’ main gallery for Doug Aitken’s opening solo exhibition, House. My breath becomes shallow as I am awash with a zen-like focus on maintaining my balance, and partially so as not to disturb Beck – who is intently fixated on the picnic table in the center of the room.
“Do not move,” I tell myself. “And for God’s sake, do not inflict bodily harm on Beck should you fall.”
Plumes of dust swell overhead as more spectators shuffle into the gallery. The freshly lain gravel proves to be logistically problematic for others with similarly unfortunate choices in footwear, as they timidly navigate the sierra of debris that borders the gallery walls. Splintering two-by-fours, jagged shards of windowpanes and fractured tiles create a mountainous rubble potpourri. I stare in astonishment (and mild jealousy) as one guest nimbly scales a nearby detritus summit to circumnavigate the throng of people blocking the entrance of the gallery. We all encircle the picnic table, which features a double-sided monitor protruding from its surface that showcases Aitken’s newest film, also titled House. I occasionally lock eyes with guests on the other side of the table, and we both hurriedly return our gaze to the monitor – nervously aware of one another’s actions. Some poke at the glowing screens of iPhones and Blackberrys; the woman next to me updates her Facebook status. Despite being communally immersed within an unprecedented space of conceptual and physical transformation, each member of the crowd seems fragmentally participatory. Conversely, Aitken’s video depicts his parents sitting across a table from one another – silent, hands neatly folded, eye contact unwavering – as the artist’s house literally crumbles around them. We stand within those remains, uncannily disengaged, while Aitken’s parents remain solely occupied with an immediate frame of actuality: each other. It is in this ironic conundrum that Aitken’s astute poetics are at work. We seemingly struggle to achieve personal archive and immutability through obsessive self-documentation, but is it ultimately performative? If we cannot avert our focus from the immediately framed image, can we truly be aware of our greater context? Or will it simply disintegrate around us under the weight of desultory cognizance?
Aitken, in speaking about his work, has asserted, “I would like the permanence of my process to be as temporary as possible.” This constant state of flux is oftentimes cited in his multi-media canon, and dramatically percolates through the impassioned components of House. His fascination with our own manipulation of memory and time typifies our simultaneous repulsion and preoccupation with decay and mortality. By distorting context, Aitken achieves a kind of fluidity that seizes that which defines humanity in a modern era: a mercurial state of being that is both isolating and interdependent. A related departure from projects like MoMA’s “Sleepwalkers,” (2007), House utilizes the notion of public and private space as a reflection of its inhabitants and the inversion (or destruction) of contained micro-realities. Without a constructed sense of boundaries, we make ourselves vulnerable to happenstance and transience, a temporal randomness that Aitken embraces. As the video draws to a close, and the empty lot in which Aitken’s house once stood fades to black, it seems a sagacious foreshadow to the impending provocations to come from the iEra. Will the construction of space and unmitigated narrative only be achieved through destruction of artifice, a kind of regress in order to progress? The inquiries manifested by the wreckage at Regen Projects may merely be the foundation for larger queries, but for Aitken, the foundation is all that remains.