‘Migration (empire) – linear version’ was created by artist Doug Aitkan in 2008. The work is a looped video in which wild animals wander through the rooms and hallways of modern hotels and motels. The piece was created for the Carnegie Museum. It was originally projected on the side of the museum exterior, to be watched by anyone passing on the street.
The film tackles the often-negative impact of humanity on nature, as human establishments like the hotels featured here have replaced the natural environment, and therefore the habitats of the creatures filmed.
Obviously, as a film, light plays a huge role, as the work itself is, essentially, light. However, light is also used in the film to represent the stark contrasts between the natural and the man-made. Shots of sunlight glinting off of river water is cut directly before a night shot with a glowing neon sign flashing irritatingly. One of the creatures knocks over an electric lamp, shattering it.
The piece is particularly striking to me because of the mood that it creates. It is infused with a surrealist sense of discomfort, and that unsettling emotion is, if not alluring exactly, then at the very least it is gripping.
The environmental lessons presented hit home for me, since I know that I don’t always do my part to protect our earth. Seeing these beautiful animals explore the corporate and cold interiors of these run down motels built on their former habitats is chilling.
My favorite thing about “Measurement: Plant (Palm)” is that it doesn’t exist. Let me explain. The work is simple. A live potted plant grows in front of a taped grid, measuring its height and width. When the artwork is not on display, the tape is thrown away, and the plant is, well, just a plant. The artwork is either on display, or it doesn’t exist at all. The placard next to the work declares that it truly only exists “as a set of instructions”.
The work was created by Mal Bochner in 1963, and has elements of the Dadaist movement – a group of artists who chose to challenge the conventional ideas of what art might be considered to be. The point of the piece is to challenge the viewer about their preconceived notions. It dares the viewer to say that it isn’t really art.
The use of light in the piece is ambiguous, of course. The work could be built on any wall large enough, and so would look completely different depending on the lights that it was under. Lower lighting might make it look more serious, almost criminal. The white fluorescent lights of the Carnegie reveal the comedy. Also, I guess you would need a light to read the instructions.
I love the sarcasm of the piece, and I love that its rebellious nose-thumbing attitude spoke to enough people that the work has survived over half a century to remain in the Carnegie museum to this day. Bochner worked so hard to scorn the art world elite, and wound up blowing them away.