Doug Aitken's Sleepwalkers on the MoMA
It may have been the least freezing night of the week, but it was still pretty freakin' cold out when Debbie and I showed up at the MoMA last Wednesday to check out Doug Aitken's multi-screen movie Sleepwalkers, currently showing on three sides of the museum's exterior. That we stood outside for almost an hour in the high-20s temperature watching a 15-minute silent film multiple times... well, it's a testament to just how visually clever and compelling Aitken's work actually is, and how well it plays in the space.
The "plot" is this: five different people—played by Donald Sutherland, Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), Tilda Swinton, OC regular and NYC bucket player Ryan Donowho, and Brazilian musician Seu Jorge—wake up, get ready for their day, go to work, nearly fall into despair about the meaninglessness of life, reach out for an external something to save them, and then find relief in taking raw, visceral action, such as twirling, or drumming, or tap dancing. The five videos were shot separately, but are meant to be viewed simultaneously. For example, all five characters, on five different screens (though the most you can see at one time is three), take a sip of their morning beverage at the same time... they all see something in a store window at the same time... they all walk near a lighting fixture at the same time... you get the idea. Even more engaging, there are moments during each video which Aitken throws in a rapid-fire edit of objects from all five (the wheels of their morning mode of transportation; the faucets in their bathrooms, etc.). Plus, the whole piece really is beautifully photographed; Debbie said that it was far more graphic that she imagined, and that made her happy.
We watched two 15-minute cycles in the empty lot between 53rd and 54th Streets, from which you can see two screens at the same time. This is the darkest of the viewing sites, so the video is particularly sharp. We then went into the sculpture garden on 54th, where you can watch three movies at once, plus two "screens" running more generic images, for five screens total. Here you also get the nice added visual effect of the movie shown on the museum's windows, and your sight lines run through the bare branches of the trees. It's all very cool, it's free, and it's airing continuously every night between 5 and 10 o'clock, until February 12.
PS: This exhibit is co-sponsored by Creative Time, who also do the 59th Minute, which works like this: every day, a 60 second work of video art plays on the giant NBC Astrovision screen in Times Square during the last minute of (almost) every hour. The 59th Minute began in 2000; Doug Aitken's New Day is currently airing.