At the end of last month, American artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken presented his latest incredible creation to the public, which at this moment is our favorite work he has created thus far. Part of the unique Desert X exhibition, that features a curated selection of site-specific works in the Coachella Valley in the Southern California desert, his creation named ‘Mirage’ is a installation utilizing the form of a ranch style suburban American house composed of reflective mirrored surfaces. It distills the recognizable and repetitious suburban home into the essence of its lines, reflecting, and disappearing into the vast western landscape. As movement was the driving force behind the settling of the American West, and the long flat vistas that stretched toward the Pacific shaped the ideology behind this iconic embodiment of American architecture, Aitken found inspiration in the history of the site to create his vision on reflection. The specific California Ranch Style, which is unique to the West, was informed by the ideas of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who believed that architecture should be both in and of the landscape.
In the 1920s and ‘30s a small inspired group of architects working in California and the West created the first suburban ranch style houses, fusing Wright’s fluid treatment of spaces with the simple one-story homes built by ranchers. After World War II, the ranch style’s streamlined simplicity gained popularity and commercial builders employed a simplified assembly line approach to create this efficient form, matching the rapid growth of the suburbs. The mass-produced ranch home became a familiar sight across the country, the style filling the American landscape as quickly as each new subdivision was built and was reinvented for the 21st century by Aitken as the ultimate tool for reflection on the rich past of this area. For those visiting Southern California before the 31st of October make sure not to miss this unique work in the middle of the desert, offering a unique perspective in a place where you are doomed to meet yourself anyway.
‘Mirage’ is reconfigured as an architectural idea, the seemingly generic suburban home now devoid of a narrative, its inhabitants, their possessions. This minimal structure now functions entirely in response to the landscape around it. The doors, windows, and openings have been removed to create a fluid relationship with the surrounding environment.
Situated at the juncture where the rugged San Jacinto mountain range gives way to the Coachella valley, ‘Mirage’ is perched over a distant modern development that fades into the open desert. As ‘Mirage’ pulls the landscape in and reflects it back out, its familiar architectural form becomes a framing device, a visual echo-chamber endlessly reflecting both the dream of nature as a pure uninhabited state and the pursuit of its conquest. Its mirrored surfaces form a lifesize kaleidoscope that absorbs and reflects the landscape. Subject and object, interior and exterior, the psychological and physical; each of these oppositional forces are held in constant tension, yet allowed to shift and transform in the ever-changing desertscape.
Like a human-scale lens, ‘Mirage’ works to frame and distort the evolving world outside of it. There is no single time to view this work, as each variation provides something new: at night the distant lights refract to create a universe of stars; on a tranquil afternoon the sky is transformed into banks of blue fragmented by slices of clouds. As there is no fixed perspective or correct interpretation, each experience of this living artwork will be unique.
Doug Aitken is an American artist and filmmaker. Defying definitions of genre, he explores every medium, from film and installations to architectural interventions. His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions around the world, in such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Vienna Secession, the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. He participated in the Whitney Biennial 1997 and 2000 and earned the International Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1999 for the installation ‘electric earth’. Aitken received the 2012 Nam June Paik Art Center Prize, and the 2013 Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award: Visual Arts.
Desert X opened 25 February 2017 and runs until 30 April 2017, although Aitken’s Mirage will remain in place until 31 October 2017.
For more work by Doug Aitken see here