Sleepwalkers, Doug Aitken’s large scale video projection onto the outside walls of the Museum of Modern Art in New York premiered Tuesday night. It was a disappointment. Aitken’s piece consists of five separate silent narratives, all of them projected simultaneously, each following the same general arc over the course of its 13 minutes. A nocturnal city dweller wakes as the sun goes down, procedes into the outside world to begin his or her worknight, but at some point lifts into a kind of ecstatic state. A grey haired businessman played by Donald Sutherland ends up dancing on the roof of a taxi. An office worker played by Tilda Swinton drifts into her dream of playing a violin in an orchestra. (Like the British artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who has pressed Robert Downey, Jr. into service for her video work, the L.A.-based Aitken has moved into the territory of video art as star vehicle.) A postal worker played by Chan Marshall — a/k/a Cat Power — starts spinning. An electrician (Seu George) eventualy does lariat curls with his cables. A bicycle messenger (Ryan Donowho) ends up drumming on a bucket as he lifts into space.
At any moment, some of the narratives will be projected across the front of MOMA, two on its westernmost walls that face onto a parking lot, and five on the three walls that enclose the sculpture garden. The garden is the best place to view it. In passages, the ones of abstract beats of cityscape and sky, the five nearly adjacent images set up a syncopated rhythm that turns the white surfaces of Yoshio Taniguchi’s MOMA architecture into drumskins.
All of the stories in Sleepwalkers could be riffs on the Paul McCartney interlude in A Day in the Life. “Woke up, fell out of bed, ran a comb across my head”. You know what happens next. “Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.” But Aitken’s trope of private fantasy claiming its space in the Cartesian city is too predictable. In our workdays (and nights) we all yearn for other realities. Can’t argue with that. But his fantasies are as sanitary as Taniguchi’s walls. They don’t bombard your nerve endings. They mostly just flickr.com.
For what it’s worth, what I’d still like to know is how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.