Doug Aitken's Latest Show Is a Beautiful, Alarming Meditation on Contemporary Life

The artist gives us an exclusive walkthrough of his exhibition at Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich with a short film that captures the eerie experience of witnessing his unsettling new works in the flesh.

Rage rooms, underwater pavilions, mirrored ranch houses—artist Doug Aitken is an expert at engineering spectacle. But in this day of shimmering screens and limited attention spans, how long are you willing to sit and stare? Our complex relationship to technology as a force of connection and alienation, progress and erosion, attention-sucker and destroyer, becomes the focus for three new mesmerizing installations by the artist, on view at Galerie Eva Presenhuber through July 21.

“This exhibition is a fast-moving modern mythology,” Aitken says via email. “We are living in a new era, one of complete connectivity and one where the screen space has become equal to the physical space around us. This surreal shift in evolution brings us into uncharted waters—a new frontier, and a frontier we are not fully prepared for. I would like these artworks to question where we go from here and how do we confront the future.”

The exhibition opens with “NEW ERA,” a video installation—first shown earlier this year at the 303 Gallery in New York—made up of a hexagonal arrangement of screens and mirrors displaying a psychedelic, disorienting short film about the game-changing moment in 1973 when Martin Cooper, inventor of the cell phone, made the first cellular call in history. A second room houses “3 Modern Figures (don’t forget to breathe),” a trio of solitary characters made of translucent glass, frozen in the pose of call, but with empty hands where cell phones would be. The figures emanate an erratic, hypnotic array of colorful lights synchronized to a soundtrack of ambient sounds and disembodied voices playing around the dark room. A third installation shows “Crossing the Border,” in which a 12-foot-tall rock-and-concrete fountain is carved out of Gandhi’s silhouette walking up hill. His glass staff radiates an intermittent white light as the flow of water intensifies from a light trickle to a powerful, steady stream.

“Art should take us to the edge of the horizon,” Aitken says, “and push us to see what is beyond.”

Above, an exclusive short film created by Aitken and his studio that captures both the show’s hypnotic beauty and its unsettling underlying message.

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