Resource book, not linear

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Doug Aitken’s Broken Screen, a book of 26 conversations between the artist and big-name filmmakers, architects and artists. Click picture to see it bigger.

I kept wondering why I was having trouble reading Doug Aitken’s book of conversations, Broken Screen. The 26 Q&A’s are between the video artist and an awe-inspiring list of filmmakers, architects and artists who deal with space, time and human issues. It should be a page turner but it’s not.

There’s something about the snazzy graphics that makes it almost unreadable in parts. The text switches point size and from white on black to black on white in a relatively random way. There are many word-based illustrations that are pullouts from the interviews — exploded blow-ups of quotes that are placed sometimes vertically, sometimes horizontally. I was putting the book down more than picking it up.


Doug Aitken’s Broken Screen. Example of an exploded quote. This is the right side of a two-page spread. (left side of pagae is below)

Then I read the conversation with Matthew Barney where the two artists discover they can’t read books:

Barney:…Now I realize that I can’t read.

Doug: Yeah, me too! Maybe that’s why this is a book of conversations–it’s for people like us.

and then I understood. This book is not a book. It’s a resource tool like an encyclopedia, something to be useful in small chunks and not read like a linear piece of work. Ha, silly me! I started at the beginning and tried to read it straight through. Luckily the “ah hah” moment came early in the alphabetically-structured book.

Another give-away, although I read right over it, is that Aitken asks each interviewee about non-linear narratives (something he himself makes and is a huge fan of in other peoples’ works). So of course, the book IS NON-LINEAR.


Doug Aitken’s Broken Screen. Example of an exploded quote. This is the left side of a two-page spread.(right side is above)

Once I got that, I am now high on Broken Screen as deep background for researching the all-star cast of artists included (Robert Altman, John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Olafur Eliasson, Werner Herzog, Pierre Huyghe, Rem Koolhaas, Richard Prince, Ugo Rondinone…the list goes on.)


John Baldessari images from Broken Screen. Here’s a great Baldessari quote: “The best way to make art is to intrigue and to be a bit seductive. You just say, here’s this and this…you figure it out.”

Aitken is a good interviewer and I believe the conversations took place either face to face or by telephone (maybe video hookup?). He’s able to lob big theoretical questions at John Baldassari and then get all mushy-headed with Barney. And it works, they actually feel conversational. In fact I kept thinking, I’d love to hear these on a cd. Thay’d also be a good radio show — Fresh Air for the art crowd.

There are some lovely anecdotes. I love this one from Robert Altman — clearly a genius from what he says in this meaty interview, well, clearly a genius from his movies too–


Collage from the Robert Altman film Nashville.

Robert:…Let me tell you this story. I was a pilot in World War II and after the war we made a film about how pilots were trained. One of the things we showed was how a pilot had to go through dozens of steps in a very linear way to start the plane. Each pilot had a checklist so they could remember them all. But then we showed how some pilots had been trained to remember how to start the plane by visualizing sixteen images simultaneously, and on up to as many as 64. They actually learned faster and better that way than when the information was presented to them as a linear checklist. This made a big impression on me. I have come to think that this is true in everything from love to sports–in anything where you’re doing lots of things simultaneously. It is like our sense of taste that I was talking about before. Fragments that give an overall impression are much more important to me in my work than the plot.

There’s more quotable quotes on every page and overall I have to say thank you, Doug, for this valuable non-linear resource. It covers a lot of interesting territory and, when digested in small chunks, it’s a totally satisfying read.

There’s a Creative Time event in New York this weekend coinciding with the book launch. Artists Vito Acconci, Jeff Koons and Miranda July will speak with Doug in public conversations. Live music and film screenings included. NOTE: THIS JUST IN FROM CREATIVE TIME…The event is full and no more RSVP’s are being entertained. We’ll read all about it after the fact, since Brent Burket of Heart as Arena fame wrote us to say he is attending the Aitkins event. Brent runs the CT blog and I’ll post a link to his coverage when it’s up there.

Here’s information on the book.

Broken Screen; Expanding the Image, Breaking the Narrative
By Doug Aitken
Published and Distributed by: Distributed Art Publishers, D.A.P.
288 Pages, 7 x 9.5 inches; 310 color images, 65 black and white
Price: $40.00
ISBN: 1933045264
(212) 627-1999

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