Dive into Doug Aitken’s Underwater Pavilions

Discover why the Californian artist's latest installation lies under the waves 22 miles off LA's coastline
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Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA.  Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs

Catalina Island, 22 miles off the Los Angeles coastline, is a popular leisure destination, where swimmers, divers and crowds on board glass-bottomed boats take in the bright marine life that inhabits this portion of the pacific.

However, at the beginning of next month those visitors will have a new, man-made spectacle to admire under the surface of Catalina’s waters, when US artist Doug Aitken opens his Underwater Pavilions.

 

Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs

The marine installation, which will be free to visit, serves as a kind of satellite work to his more formal retrospective at MOCA Los Angeles. The Underwater Pavilions consist of three mirrored, 12-sided structures, large enough to swim into, which the artist has anchored into the sea beside Catalana’s shores about 15 feet below the waves.

Although Aitken is better known for his video works, he has branched out into small-scale architecture before. In Rome back in 2009, he oversaw a small pavilion for his show Frontier and in 2012 he collaborated with David Adjaye to create a pavilion for the Tate Liverpool.

 

Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs

These structures, which have been fabricated by an upmarket boat builder, carved by the artist’s assistants, and hand-carved by his studio assistants, and completed with the help of an oceanographer and submarine fabricator, still mark a substantial departure.

“I didn’t want something you could drive to, pull into a parking lot and see,” the 48-year-old LA-born artist told the New York Times. “I wanted a process to take you out of the everyday.”

By stationing these pavilions off the coast of LA, on an island that’s about an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, he’s certainly achieved his objective. Yet in another way, Aitken’s Underwater Pavilions are in keeping with his other work.

 

Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs

As we explain in this preview of his LA MOCA show, a lot of the artist’s work deals with the perception of time, and space and memory.

In the past he’s used video projections to fool around with those perceptions, but by anchoring these distinctly hippy-ish dodecahedrons into the Californian coastline, he’s allowing the basic, disorienting effects of a scuba dive do his work for him.

 

Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs
Doug Aitken, Underwater Pavilions, 2016, installation view, Avalon, CA. Courtesy: MOCA Los Angeles and Parley for the Oceans photo by: Shawn Heinrichs

To learn more about Aitken’s work, order a copy of our Contemporary Artist Series book dedicated to him here. For more fascinating small-scale architecture, order a copy of Nanotecture here; and if you're an architecture fan heading to the West Coast, don't forget Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide: West Coast USA.


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