“He stepped out the taxi and looked up at the building and said, ‘This is the world’s greatest screen,’ ” Brougher recalls.
“I really had this visceral response to it, ” Aitken says of the Hirshhorn’s famous round building on stilts.
“I was impressed by its enormity. I thought it was just a fascinating architectural structure. It’s very rare to find a continuous curved plane like that.”
He knew at that moment that “the museum itself should really become a work. It felt like there could be a way possibly to activate it,” he says.
After two years of discussion and planning by the 44-year-old California artist, “SONG 1” will be projected onto all sides of Gordon Bunshaft’s striking modernist cylinder beginning Thursday at sunset and running from dusk to midnight through May 13.
The continuous visual loop will fracture images, swirl, swoop and transform the already famous building into a 360-degree panorama that viewers can experience any number of ways: at a fixed point watching it all unfold, walking around the building to see what’s occurring at other vantage points; driving by what may seem like a moving two-story billboard on the Mall or from a distance, where it may look like a Vegas spaceship that’s landed on the august expanse of monuments, museums and grass.
Just as the cherry blossoms in their 100th year on the Mall will attract and delight thousands of spectators during the day this spring, Aitken’s latest work is intended to do the same at night.
For Aitken, whose outdoor video projections, installations and musical happenings have earned him awards for more than a decade, Bunshaft’s stout cylinder was a particular challenge.
Usually such ambitious 360-degree presentations have been indoors and on concave screens — from the pre-film wonder of the Cyclorama at Gettysburg to the Circle-Vision 360˚ theaters in Disney theme parks.
Aitken’s work, however, is on a convex concrete surface that will receive light and movement from nine projectors embedded in boxes big as washing machines on the museum’s perimeter wall.
The aim is to upend the very concept of a museum, says Brougher, demonstrating “how a museum can be pulled inside out.”
For Aitken, the piece allows him to toy with the idea of creating “a fluid architecture or to liberate the mass of architecture.”
At the same time, he was seeking to shatter central notions of cinema — “to break the screen in a sense, so you’re no longer composing for a rectangle with a passive viewer, but instead you’re making something that can possibly empower the viewer to navigate their own narrative and create their own perceptional experience out of something which can’t really be consumed from any angle and doesn’t really have a start or finish.”