ArtCenter College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.

Doug Aitken

Illustration '91

Doug Aitken is based in Los Angeles, where he weaves between the worlds of pop culture and fine art with aplomb. His creative eye leads us into a world in flux, where time, space and memory are fluid concepts. Although he adeptly employs a broad array of media, he is best known for his innovative film and video installations, which have had widespread exposure around the world.

Aitken has exhibited at venues such as the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and shown work at the New York, London and Telluride film festivals, among others.

In 1999, his installation Electric Earth won the Premio Internazionale—the best international artist award—at the 48th Venice Biennale. In 2007, Aitken's Sleepwalkers was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in 2008, he produced another large-scale outdoor film installation, Migration, for the 55th Carnegie International show in Pittsburgh. Aitken has also directed more than 20 high-profile music videos that have been featured on MTV and other networks.

The New Yorker has called his work “mesmerizing,” and The New York Times has hailed him as “a new cultural icon for the 21st century.”

Art Center : Has any aspect of your work-related experience taken you by surprise?
Doug Aitken:
You learn an incredible amount from the street, from throwing yourself into experiences where you're not necessarily comfortable. I've always believed strongly in process, just really letting the process stimulate you. Art Center is very successful in giving you the tools, but it's up to you to put them into action. It's interesting to reflect on the college and post-college periods.

Thinking back, the morning after graduation I went to Mexico and had my portfolio stolen. Everything that I'd done in four years at Art Center had disappeared. And it was this overwhelmingly melancholic—but also liberating—moment.

Suddenly, I felt like my education wasn't about showing a portfolio piece, but really about what I had learned as a human. Those were the real tools I had to work with. It was kind of ironic, too, because about a month later I received a phone call from the police saying that they had found some stuff of mine and, of course, the one thing that the thieves didn't take was my portfolio. That was also a little disturbing, thinking, “Hey, wasn't this worth stealing?”

AC: How do you describe yourself as an artist?
I struggle against definition. I'm fascinated by working in a way that is de-material and nomadic. I'm always looking for ways to make projects from place to place, from medium to medium. If I want to be in Africa filming, I go there. If I want to work with an architect in Rotterdam, then that's an option. I feel like there's a way of working that's becoming increasingly relevant in the 21st century. This nomadic way of creating is finding its place in society, and it's something I'm very interested in.

AC: Do you feel like you operate more in the present, or is part of what you do more future-oriented?
Both. I don't work off of nostalgia very much. I'm interested in making artwork for the viewer's experience—a space that has no future or past at all; a space where the viewer's perception is running at real time with the work. The idea that you can have a perfect one-to-one relationship in the present moment with a work of art is something I have always found fascinating.

AC: What issues will artists and designers face 10 years from now?
Our relationship with time and with its acceleration—finding ways to expand time and expand experience. For every acceleration, somehow there's an equally radical deceleration. The moments of tranquility and silence are going to become more amplified as society moves more rapidly.

And this, coupled with the idea of time as a linear entity, will mean finding ways to look at time more as a montage. These are the things that interest me.

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