Creativity at the Speed of Light

As he releases a new book documenting 30 years of work, the US artist Doug Aitken reflects on how art can help us understand our “accelerated world” and the constant need to push at the boundaries of creativity

The artist Doug Aitken is reflecting on what it means to create as he looks back at 30 years of his work for a new publication by Mack. We are talking via a pretty shonky Teams video call but he still manages to be erudite and thoughtful.

“One of the things you need to have, to create, is to not get fixated on what’s happened before but to really look at where we are today and how to move forward,” he says. “But at the same time, we’re also always building on histories, we’re always building on creativity and experiments that happened in the past.”

Aitken has published numerous books before – they form part of a wide-ranging body of artworks that span film, photography, architecture, ‘happenings’, and more – but he tried to approach this one differently, resulting in a project that has taken around five years to complete.

“I looked at a lot of monographs and to me so many of them were stiff and static and there would be several monumental essays by writers that kind of lost the plot and it felt like they just went down a vortex.

Doug Aitken
Top: New Ocean, 2001 (still); Above: the mirror #11 (rise), 1998; All images courtesy of the artist and Mack

“One of the things that I really react to is oral histories, is conversations, is the idea of the friction of conversation, how that can bring about a different energy. So I proposed that to the publisher – that maybe we should do this much more about conversations over a period of time, and the book becomes a hybrid oral history mixed with moments that are factual.”