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Art review: Doug Aitken at Regen Projects

November 24, 2010 |  4:00 pm

Aitken House 2
"House," an elaborate new video by Doug Aitken, is a quietly moving visual poem on soulful subjects that include love, mortality and the unexpected beauty harbored within the inevitability of change. It operates on several levels, most of them successful.

A pair of flat-screen monitors is installed back-to-back on a modern wooden table flanked by benches, which replicate those seen on screen. In the video, a neatly dressed older couple -- the artist's parents, according to the gallery handout at  Regen Projects -- are seated opposite each other, hands resting on the tabletop and eyes locked. Over the next several minutes, the modest house around them slowly but steadily collapses, falling into heaps of ruined debris.

Neither person moves or betrays the least hint of disturbance. Instead, they're serene. Contented resignation to human fate unfolds.

By the end, the neighborhood lot on L.A.'s Westside where the house once stood is empty, a blank field nestled within a ring of apartment buildings. A pair of white rectangles is inscribed on the ground -- at once a possible diagram of the house that was there, an outline of what might be built there next and, not least, a subtle evocation of a grave site. The video continues in a seamless loop, and the process begins again.

The title "House" refers, of course, to the domestic residence on the screen, but that's not all. It's also an archaic term for family ancestry, which the video implies. Finally, it's a term of theater designating the audience watching a performance. The latter is where Aitken's work, which is actually an installation rather than just a video, feels overdone.

The table and video monitors are installed in a room whose floor has been covered with a few inches of dirt and gravel, while mounds of debris -- which may or may not be residue from the artist's family house -- are piled against walls around the gallery. The conceit is labored.

I kept wondering what it would be like to experience the emotionally and conceptually layered video isolated in a routine environment, which casually conceals the inevitability of decay, rather than in a theatrical one that tries to replicate it. The ponderous stage set intrudes as a heavy-handed manipulation, weighing down the otherwise ephemeral loveliness of the poignant video.

-- Christopher Knight

Regen Projects, 633 N. Almont Drive, West Hollywood, (310) 276-5424, through Dec. 18. Closed Sun. and Mon.

Photo: Doug Aitken, "House," 2010, video and mixed-media installation. Credit: Regen Projects