Doug Aitken Takes His Art to the Pacific Ocean With Underwater Sculptures

The artist says we've caused "radical disruption" of the sea.

Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions (2016). Digital rendering by Doug Aitken Workshop/Parley for the Oceans/MOCA.
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions (2016). Digital rendering by Doug Aitken Workshop/Parley for the Oceans/MOCA.

Doug Aitken is planning an ambitious installation on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. To coincide with his survey exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Aitken will moor temporary sculptures to the ocean floor.

Underwater Pavilions will consist of three geometric sculptures, with partly mirrored exteriors, that swimmers and scuba divers will be able to swim through. They’ll be installed at Catalina Island, 22 miles south of LA.

Doug Aitken. Photo Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images.

Doug Aitken. Photo Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images.

The artist aims to call attention to the marine environment partly as a call for better conservation. The sculpture is being produced in partnership with MOCA LA and Parley for the Oceans, which aims to harness the power of the arts to raise awareness of threats to the health of the oceans.

“When we talk about the oceans and we look at the radical disruption we’ve created within the sea, we’re not quite aware yet how much that’s going to affect us and our lives on land,” said the artist in a press announcement. “The ramifications of that are immense. This is one thing which cannot be exaggerated.”

Doug Aitken: Electric Earth” opens at MOCA LA’s Geffen Contemporary venue on September 10; his first North American survey, it will include some 20 years of his video installations as well as collages, drawings, and other media.

The marine sculptures provide an aquatic counterpoint to a long tradition of Land Art that emerged in the American West with artists like Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson.

While Underwater Pavilions seems sure to be a sensation, Aitken isn’t the first artist to take his work under the water’s surface. Berlin artist Trevor Paglen led a scuba mission to the ocean floor off of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in December 2015, to see the fiber-optic cables that power the internet, a trip this writer participated in.

Aitken also joins other organizations focused on the health of the oceans. Philanthropist and art collector Francesca von Habsburg’s Vienna-based foundation, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), also aims to explore ecological concerns with a long-term “Oceans Pavilion,” to be erected in Venice, perhaps as early as summer 2017.

“We are at war with the oceans,” said Parley for the Oceans founder Cyrill Gutsch. “If we win, we lose it all. Art has the power to direct all eyes on the oceans, in the oceans, and make its protection a creative collaboration.”


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