Doug Aitken: Song 1
Every evening, from sunset to midnight, the Californian artist’s latest installation transforms the Hirshhorn into the world’s first 360º convex cinema screen.
A true multi-disciplinarian in the art world, Californian Doug Aitken has been responsible for some of the most innovative and grand “fine art installations” of the past few years. His multimedia productions often entail novel and interesting uses of spaces and existing structures. This very much rings true for his latest installation Song 1 which, until 13 May 2012, has transformed the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC into the world’s first 360° convex cinema screen.
Through the use of eleven high definition projectors, every evening from sunset to midnight the vast circular façade of the Hirshhorn lights up the National Mall with a looped thirty-five minute video piece that at times emphasises the entire of the building’s form. At other points, parts of the building disappear, the video engulfing them as Aitken’s “reflection of contemporary reality” flows around the circular volume, creating a the illusion of a liquid architecture of sorts. Visible from countless vantage points around the National Mall and park, the piece is not simply reflected in two or four sections, but is a singular multimedia entity which differs depending on the position from which you take it in.
The work is based around the classic song I Only Have Eyes For You, written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin for the 1934 Warner Brothers picture Dames, in which Dick Powell uses it to profess his love to Ruby Keeler. In the film’s finale, a re-prise of the song cues a fantasy sequence where Keeler is gradually duplicated and reiterated, until hundreds of Keelers together deliver an elaborate Busby Berkley choreographed musical crescendo. This is perhaps from where some of the visual inspiration for Aitken’s project also stems. Made popular in the doo-wop era by The Flamingos and since by scores of others including Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Art Garfunkel, the classic song has been re-interpreted for this project by the likes of Beck, James Murphy, Devendra Banhart, CFCF, No Age and Lucky Dragons.
Visually the piece flows through an array of hypnotic stages as I Only Have Eyes… is deconstructed and reduced to its elements. The video articulates this process through a mixture of reflections, separations and kaleidoscopic visuals, cutting away to scenes of calm in tandem with the soundscape. At stages, the segment of the visual tale that you are engrossed in travels horizontally out of view, encouraging you to follow it and watch how ‘your’ story progresses. Aitken urges a cinematic experience that includes physical exploration, re-configuring the role of space and situ in a manner counter to that that we are used to in cinema’s evolution. It has become common for technology to empower us in terms of being able to control when and where we watch films and videos, with a long-term emphasis on portability. Here Aitken, somewhat conversely, uses the defined space of the Hirshhorn’s circinate exterior to prompt us to explore his cleverly orchestrated polyphony.