In migration (empire), artist Doug Aitken explores the complex relationship between America’s wilderness and its sprawling built environment. Images of vast landscapes, roadside motels, and industrial cityscapes from every region of the country move across the screen, calling to mind the migration of settlers across the great expanse of land. Unexpectedly, the protagonists of Aitken’s meditative exploration are neither frontiersmen nor actors, but native North American animals. Confined in the sterile environment of motel rooms, the animals cautiously explore the unfamiliar habitat; their displacement from the native environment yields scenes that are at once humorous and horrific, familiar yet prophetic. The work captures the country’s strengths and contradictions—the sublime beauty of a landscape that is often marred by manmade interventions, and the national ambition to expand, which brings both opportunity and loss. Ultimately, migration (empire) provides a picture of America as it grows, changes, and finds its place in the 21st century.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website