MOCA’s “Doug Aitken: Electric Earth” references a work that very few have seen: lighthouse (2012). You won’t see it at MOCA Geffen, as it’s a building projection commission for a private home in Duchess County, New York. Instead an impressive five-minute video documents it for MOCA visitors. Aitken has done projection pieces for museums, and one is on permanent display at the Seattle Art Museum. That illuminates a mere strip of the building’s facade. Lighthouse is something else again. The projections cover virtually the whole building.
During the day, the Jill and Peter Kraus residence is a handsome glass Moebius strip/Klein bottle by Allied Works Architecture. At night, Aitken’s installation kicks on. Blackout shades cover the glass, as in some James Bond villain’s evil lair. Seventeen projectors, each hidden in doghouse-sized structures on the grounds, project Aitken’s multi-channel video on the opacified glass. The video, shot on the house’s grounds over a year’s time, is of seasonal landscapes, sunrises, sunsets, and close-ups of nature.
At times Lighthouse suggests a cloaking experiment gone wrong. The house becomes a momentary snapshot of the landscape behind it, though not quite. In this regard, lighthouse can be slotted into the unexpectedly rich class of art about camouflage, a theme that has intrigued artists from Abbot Handerson Thayer and Edward Wadsworth to Andy Warhol and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
The video is mostly of daytime, so it’s a daytime house in a night landscape, recalling the gimmick of Magritte’s Empire of Light. Close-ups of leaves and branches evoke a Japanese appreciation for nature and contrasting perspective.
“What if the architecture became a black hole?” Aitken asked himself in planning the work. In a certain way, the Kraus residence one-ups Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House, each an attempt to make a building vanish into nature.
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