Mirage, a new work by the artist Doug Aitken, has popped up in the California desert. The work, a facsimile of a suburban ranch-style house with mirrored surfaces, is part of the exhibition of site-specific works, Desert X, founded by Susan Davis and curated by artistic director Neville Wakefield, which opens to the public this weekend (25 February-20 April).
“I wanted to take the vernacular of a West Coast suburban home… and reduce it of any human contact or belongings so it became pure form,” Aitken explains. “I wanted the form to have a dialogue with the surrounding environment.” The artist has been working on the project for about two years, “trying to find the perfect location”. That turned out to be a perch on a rocky hillside above Palm Springs, a perspective that allows visitors to view the suburban grid below them, but where such man-made environs “disappear into the desert landscape”.
Mirage has no doors or windows where you would typically find them, and there are open areas in the roof to let in the light and the elements. There is “something very organic about [Mirage], because you have the immediacy of the earth… and there’s a wind that’s constantly blowing across it”, Aitken says. Visitors can walk around the mirrored interior of the house, which has roughly the dimensions and floor plan of a typical California ranch-style home, such as a space about the size of a bedroom and an eight-foot hallway that is “a kaleidoscope of mirrors”. (The work will remain up longer than the exhibition, until 31 October.)
“I’m very interested in that tension of how we confront the landscape,” Aitken adds. “There’s this sense in the western part of America that the landscape is something that’s there to be tamed and forced into a grid and cleaned up.” When asked if the violent history of Manifest Destiny, the early American rationalisation of westward expansion, had any influence on the work, Aitken jokingly says: “You should write that.” But he declines to assign a particular meaning to the piece, saying that each viewer can confront it differently.
“When you’re making a work like Mirage, which is really based on a concept, you take the idea and you develop it and refine it,” Aitken says, “but at a certain point, you let go and the work takes over… and if you’re fortunate, it surprises and shocks you in certain ways and at certain times.”