Doug Aitken’s FLAGS AND DEBRIS: the other side of Los Angeles

At Regen Project, Los Angeles, January 16 – March 13, 2021

below: DOUG AITKEN Flags and Debris, 2020 Photo: Peter Kirby

Always about us: Act 2

by ROSANNA ALBERTINI

Ruthless as leopards, / sharper than wolves, / the powerful gallop / in the dark,  /coming from on high / like a falling star / to destroy. / They always want something, their faces / hard as a coin, / contagious / as a dollar. / The powerful /scoff at power / and laugh / at regulations. / They are everywhere, / blind to boundaries. Then wind changes / and they dry up / and are carried away. / It is a mistake to worship power, / even your own.

From Unbuttoned Sleeves, by Forti, Johnson, Swenson, Wadle, 2006

The following images are stills from the excerpt provided by Regen Projects, the stills were selected and grabbed by RA

And, for once, an artist channels his own power through the sleeves of his old shirts, blankets and fabric of his home, looking through the fabric of his life. Oh, ronawave certainly blocked him, forcing his day in a contingent straightjacket like all of us all over the world. This is now normal life, almost, as it always should be: facing sister death as a constant companion who smiles at our aging and ailments, little things after all. 

The artists, Doug Aitken, covered the many days of isolation with the same patience as Penelope waiting for Ulysses, cutting fabric and sewing the seams and hamming the edges of a population of words dressed with magnificent colors or gently depleted as if thoughts had dimmed the light on their skin. Paintings /  Flags / Banners / Quilts?  All of that. Some of them are hung at Regen Project, until March 13, 2021.

below: DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches

Others fell from the artists hands to start a completely different life. Sliding down the parapet of a bridge they fly for a short while until the water welcomes their flat body and caressing the surface of the fabric transforms them into translucent magic rags floating under the astonished eyes of birds. Homeless art. I hope the artist let them go away, for their natural polluted journey in the liquid realm. 

DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches

The scenes Aitken prepared for the 3 channel video installation (Flags and Debris) deserve more than a description. They have to be seen in person, sucked into the light space and sounds of an almost empty city. Carried away by cars roaring on a freeway like dark animals with fire in their eyes stealing your eyes for a ride with no direction. The loud slaps of fabric, the emotional voice of fabricated blankets folding and unfolding over invisible bodies with no identity. Homeless art on homeless humans. Homeless artist? At least for a while?

Lack of identity becomes monumental. It moves the figures and their coats to unnamed places of our time and to others, centuries old, dramatically balanced as in the baroque paintings. This symphony of images and sounds —13  minutes 20 seconds long— reveals something that cannot be described: despair, pain, delusion, fears   can be looked at as images of incredible beauty even on the most flat and gray beds of concrete. A whole day from morning to dark. The artist gives to walls, sidewalks and rivers of Los Angeles a down-to-earth portrait. Through a modest amount of time the dance of dispersed bodies that is the living city among cars, trains and bikes, shows what really those bodies are: simply humans, and wonderful. A foot emerge from the sidewalk like a classic pedestal. A hand raises from darkness and it feels like a tender flower breaking the ground after winter, naked and still colorless.        

I don’t know if Doug Aitken ever worshipped his own power as an artist, I don’t think he let his flags out unprotected without a bump in his heart. Then he followed the estranged creatures with his camera and composed a videopoem in their praise, and in praise of the most surprising city. Frankly, ronawave started the process, but the artist brought it out of time, on the other side of the Acheron.