Doug Aitken: migration (empire)

Filmed in nondescript motel rooms across the United States, Doug Aitken’s migration (empire), 2008, removes animals from their natural habitats and places them in environments intended for human habitation. Drawn to the ubiquity and anonymity of these spaces, Aitken has explained: “I wanted to address [the] idea of a modern landscape and a new form of nomadicism. We find ourselves in these hotels — very transitory places — and you have these private moments, [but] the room looks the same as one you might’ve stayed in months ago.”

migration (empire) finds moments of humor, such as a scene of rabbits rapidly multiplying across the room, but the tone of Aitken’s video becomes somber as we realize that these animals have not only been contained, but are also being subjected to the same monotony to which humans willingly accede. As Aitken’s surrealist vignettes unfurl over the course of twenty-four minutes, the animals quickly revert to their natural instincts: a beaver finds its way to the cascade of running water in the bathtub; an unruly bison topples furniture with its massive head; a cougar tears a bed apart. In an especially poignant moment, a horse seems to watch his wild counterparts canter across the landscape on a television screen. Aitken’s equine subject slowly turns its head to face the camera, as if understanding the loss of freedom that came with domestication.

An epilogue to Joslyn’s recent exhibition Go West! Art of the American Frontier from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, migration (empire) reflects on the history of westward expansion and its impact on the landscape. The nineteenth-century concept of manifest destiny implied that Euro-Americans were ordained to populate the North American continent under the guiding hand of divine providence. While this goal was quickly accomplished, it was not without far-reaching consequences for indigenous peoples, wildlife, and the land itself. Paralleling our often destructive advance across the continent, migration (empire) asks us to recognize the weight of history and its implications for the future. Aitken describes migration (empire) as “…almost like a survey of the landscape… It’s a cinematic portrayal of an idea that’s somewhat fictional [and] futuristic, yet set within our current reality.”

What's pictured: Stills from migration (empire), 2008, single video projection, 24:28 min duration, edition of 4, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Doug Aitken

The Karen and Doug Riley Contemporary Artists Project Gallery

A 500-square-foot space in the Scott Pavilion suite of galleries, the Riley CAP Gallery showcases nationally- and internationally-recognized artists, as well as emerging talent, selected by Joslyn curators. A rotating schedule of intimate, carefully focused exhibitions will examine how artists engage with the world and respond to the issues that challenge them creatively, bringing new perspectives on contemporary art to Nebraska.

Riley CAP Gallery artists will be invited to Joslyn for lectures and other public programs, giving audiences the opportunity to gain insight into creative processes and contribute to an expanded dialogue about new art. The first Joslyn gallery dedicated exclusively to living artists, the Riley CAP Gallery represents an important step in making contemporary art an even more integral component of the Museum’s exhibition programming.