Manetti Shrem invites Doug Aitken to speak on new video installation

Manetti Shrem invites Doug Aitken to speak on new video installation

Photo Credits: ZOË REINHARDT / AGGIE Caption: The Manetti Shrem Museum on the UC Davis campus exhibits "NEW ERA", an installation by Doug Aitken, which runs from September 26, 2019 to June 14, 2020.

NEW ERA captures attention, 

The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art welcomed contemporary artist Doug Aitken to speak about his new exhibit “NEW ERA, an installation by Doug Aitken” on Saturday, Oct. 5. The video installation opened on Sept. 26 — the first West Coast premiere of Aitken’s work. The installation has an 11-minute run time and is played on a loop. 

The exhibit was first installed in New York in 2018 and has since been shown worldwide. The exhibition is an immersive experience. The sound is gratifying, almost like sitting in the middle of an IMAX theatre, and the pictures are casted with three different projectors. Where there isn’t a picture, there is a full-length mirror, completely trapping viewers. 

The installation features Martin Cooper, the Motorola executive that made the first cellular phone call. NEW ERA focuses on the generation that we have created through the use of cell phones and new technology that places the world at our fingertips. 

Aitken’s installation differs from other exhibitions the museum is currently hosting. The two exhibits currently being shown alongside Aitken’s work are Colorform by Kathy Butterly and Landscape without Boundaries. The three exhibits are in stark contrast with each other, but the variety and exposure of different stories is what the museum hopes to provide for its viewers.

“That was part of the idea of adding Doug into the mix, to have very different types of experiences on view,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Manetti Shrem. “That’s part of how we select exhibitions, as well. We want different kinds of experiences with the hope of reaching the broadest audience possible.”

In order for the Manetti Shrem to host a different installation or exhibition, it implemented filters and different criteria. 

“We see the museum as having really two parallel purposes,” Teagle said. “One is we’re all about honoring UC Davis legacy. And then Doug comes in. So the two roles we have as a museum is: celebrate our legacy and introduce new voices. In Doug’s case, not only is it new voices, but it’s new media as well.” 

Aitken’s visit to the museum gave those in attendance a new perspective on his past works. He highlighted different pieces of his artwork as well as a future one, currently in the works. Aitken briefly touched on NEW ERA, choosing to let the work speak for itself. But what he did mention about the installation is the moment that he realized the world we lived in was consumed by the devices we are glued to. 

The new media introduced with the NEW ERA installation is a different kind of vibe. It is similar to an ongoing piece of poetry that doesn’t allow for any other distractions. It’s a collective experience where viewers are placed in a world where it is just them, 30 strangers and the words of Cooper reflecting on what he’s created and brought into society. 

“I remember vividly being in [a] cafe and I was sitting there and I looked up from the table, I was alone, and every person I saw was on the phone,” Aitken said. “There’s basically this landscape of communication. So in this moment … looking around, as these people surrounding me in this restaurant, I said, ‘Was a person really involved in this? Did someone actually invented this?’ Because I think when we think about technology, we have this idea that it just happened. It just is, it’s this creation.” 

Shortly after his experience in the coffee shop, Aitken went home to do research and found the story of how the cell phone was created and its repercussions and influence. Aitken discovered Martin Cooper. 

“There’s a series of chapters from the Bronze Age, the Industrial Revolution, all these kinds of moments in time,” Aitken said. “But right now, we’re kind of seamlessly sliding into a terrain that we’re very unfamiliar with. We’re being led by innovation, we’re being led by engineering — it’s the kind of Galapagos, this kind of Darwinistic moment where things click and we use our phones, the idea of connectivity, the idea of internet. But do we really question, ‘How do we see this ethically?’ Do we think about where we’re going, or just where we are today?”

Aitken mentioned the idea of the swift notion that technology was brought in, so swift that some of us don’t remember what it’s like to not have a cell phone in our pockets at every waking moment in time.

The installation has already garnered attention from students at UC Davis and students from different universities. Katie Applebaum, a senior at California State University, Chico drove 90 minutes from Chico, Calif. to visit the installation for the second time and hear Aitken speak. 

“[The installation] is making me more aware of how we are changing without realizing it, and I fixate on that a lot,” Applebaum said. “I work with materials that a lot of younger generations, I don’t think, understand or think about. And I think instant gratification and having a computer on your hip at all times is kind of de-evolving us in a way. So the visceral input of the installation, it plays to our want for that gratification. And I think it also makes us aware of it.”

The installation itself is in a small room and has the capability to take the viewer out of their reality. 

“It was disorienting,” said Alyssa Castro, a first-year biology major. “It was hard to find my way around at first. It was kind of weird to be taken out of such a bright space and be thrown into such a dark space — it was hard to regain my senses. And then once the video started, I really enjoyed the visuals and all the coloring and it was just a really great experience.”

The exhibit forces a reevaluation of art and sense of self. 

“As I get older, [the definition of art is] pretty well aligned with what Doug Aiken was saying, art is absolutely everything,” Applebaum said. “Everything that you do, the people that you talk to, the things that you decide to spend your time with, I personally think is art. Just like what you choose to put on in the morning is a composition, everything is art.”

The Manetti Shrem is open to all, free of charge. The NEW ERA installation will be on view until June 14, 2020.  

Written By: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org