Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers

January 18, 2007

Tuesday night brought me to the MoMa’s opening of Sleepwalkers. A friend told me he had PA’d “some art film” and invited me to the reception. I went expecting a small party, a dinky projector, and a cute friend of a friend. Instead there were 1000 people viewing multiple-story outdoor projections all around the block made up of 53rd and 54th streets and 5th and 6th avenues. And there will continue to be that daily from 5-10pm until February 12.

Every projection features one of five stories (about 10 minutes in length, rotating and looped), following a person through his/her daily NY routine. In two viewing locations – a large open alley and the MoMa garden – you can watch multiple stories unfold together. Here you’ll notice that stories feature roughly simultaneous variations on a theme: characters riding a bicycle/taxi/subway, putting on coats, etc. Periodically the stories become awesomely syncronous, such as when each character sips his/her respective breakfast beverage, puts it down, and walks down a long hallway to the outside world.

Aiken’s artistic theories can be missummarized into “non-linear narratives are good let the people piece together their own story” and he certainly offered bits of cohesion, such as when the cab-riding woman’s cab hit the hurrying suited fellow at the climax of the busker’s bucket pounding, and after an is-he-OK pause the suited fellow stood on the hood of the cab and tap-danced with the beat of the busker’s buckets.

The entire piece has a dreamlike quality that is punctuated by a few concrete symbols: graffiti reading “DISAPPEAR”; a woman walking against painted arrows; and an abundance of magazines/posters featuring a face and titles like ANY DAY NOW and NOTHING EVER STAYS THE SAME.

On the whole, I Liked It A Lot. Some objective criteria for why Sleepwalkers is Good: it successfully inspired me to walk through itself and piece together my own narrative; the images were beautiful; like The Gates, it pushes art towards people who mightn’t otherwise seek it, namely the 5 o’clock rush from the surrounding corporate offices; details of the implementation reflect a comprehensive vision on the part of the artist – one can stand in certain parts of the MoMa garden and see one film reflected onto another.

Great excuse for a party too.

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