Internationally acclaimed artist Doug Aitken launches New Horizon

It will gleam like lake water and drift in a clear sky. In late July, the internationally acclaimed artist Doug Aitken will bring a new work to the Berkshires. And it will fly.

New Horizon is an abstract sculpture and a moving stage — and a hot air balloon. By day it will reflect the land like a mirror, holding the colors of sky and cloud and high summer trees. And by night it will become a light show for concerts with live music and speculations about the future.

Aitken has created this work in collaboration with the Trustees of Reservations, and it will travel to properties across the state this month, winding up at Field Farm in Williamstown on July 25 and 28, and Naumkeag in Stockbridge on July 27. The journey will take at least two weeks from the ocean to the mountains, with performances and conversations along the way.

And Aitken will come himself to see the last flights here over the open ridges, said independent curator Pedro Alonzo, who spoke by phone from Boston. (Aitken was traveling at the time.)

Catching fire

Alonzo has known Aitken for 20 years, and he has been working with the Trustees of Reservations on their ongoing Art and the Landscape series for the last three years, envisioning new work at new landscapes each year.

The Trustees care for more than 100 properties across the state, Alonzo said, and this summer, his fourth show will come to the Berkshires for the first time.

The hot air balloon idea showed its first glimmer on Long Point in Martha’s Vineyard, he said. He was exploring properties as he thought about his fourth exhibit, and he came to the eastern edge of the state. He stood looking out over the water.

“I was thinking about how I would do anything there,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. It faces the Atlantic, and with the dunes and the lagoon, the forest and the fields — what could I do? And I thought about Doug. He’s always up for a challenge, and unexpected or surprising projects. A year or two ago we were in Mexico together, surfing, and he talked about wanting to do something at the Vineyard.”

As Aitken learned about more of the Trustees properties, he wanted to link them together in this work, Alonzo said, and he proposed the balloon.

The idea moved Alonzo strongly, with its contrasts between natural and human-made, with its 21st-century digital equipment and technology that goes back to sky lanterns in southern Asia more than 1800 years ago.

“We are at a moment of concern and apprehension about our future,” he said. “It gives perspective, going up in a balloon and looking out over the horizon. There’s something wonderful about the impractical nature of a balloon. It was the first device to give humanity a sense of perspective of the landscape, the first aerial view humanity had. The first time we had the idea of being able to go up and look over.

I love these metaphors emerging from the piece at a time when we’ve been tricked by technology into thinking that everything’s efficient and programmed. In reality everything is tricky and fuzzy and surprising. We can’t plan everything.”

Art in light

Aitken has often played with reflection in his work. He builds abstract forms in mirrors, kaleidoscopes, water and light.

“Doug grew up in Los Angeles,” Alonzo said, “And he has admired the L.A. basin for a long time.. When you look at photographs, it’s an endless landscape of lights. You see it when you fly in, or look out at the city.”

He draws from the idea of light and landscape, and a reflection of humanity’s relationship to technology, and the bombardment of information that has become part of human life in many parts of the world.

Aitken has often set his work in urban landscapes: In train stations, the Seattle Art Museum, the former State Savings Band in downtown Detroit. In some he has reached out to a kind of border, a natural setting at the edge of a manmade one.

He created Mirage, a literal house of mirrors, in the Southern California desert within sight of development, Alonzo said, and Underwater Pavilions, abstract sculptures off the coast of Los Angeles. And he once created a moving light exhibit on a train in Station to Station.

Unifying Flying Object

An installation linking several places has a new element for Aitken, Alonzo said. This summer, he is working with an organization rooted in protecting the land, and he is setting this work down in at least six landscapes.

“Each one is unique,” Alonzo said. “Open vistas, expanses of grass and forest.”

The balloon will lift off at Long Point by the sea, and move along the coast to Plymouth, exploring the eastern end of the state at the daCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln and the Crane estate beside the preserved Crane Beach. And then, between July 22 and July 25, it will float from the ocean over open forest to the mountains.

In this work, Aitken imagines the travel as a kind of road trip, Alonzo said. But it takes on a slow, organic movement. A balloon is wholly dependent on the weather. It adapts to wind and temperature. It is vulnerable to storms. And so the pilot who will fly it cannot chart out a definite course ahead of time.

Alonzo enjoys that feeling of surprise and serendipity. He imagines people looking up casually, out in a field or stuck in traffic, to see a shining orb in the sky.

“We will fly around the state,” Alonzo said. “We plan to be up as much as possible. And touching down — we’ve got to land.”

Close Encounters

The balloon will make its way from one place to another, connecting them. And at each place it will become the focus for performances and conversations. Artists and performers will look to the future. Scientists will look ahead from their viewpoint, and journalists and experts in technology.

“I think of this now, as we’re getting ready,” Alonzo said, “and I see the balloon as a beacon to bring people together with art, music and conversation — to talk about the future.”

He and Aitken will hold conversations across the state. At Long Point, Spencer Glendon, an expert in economic history, and Chris Neill, an ecosystems ecologist, will talk about progress, permanence, and preservation, and how they will change as the global climate grows warmer and less stable.

Lonnie Holley will perform in Plymouth, an artist and musician many in the Berkshires know from his collaborative installation in Mass MoCA’s Building 6, Thumbs Up for the Mothership, on view through this July.

Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review, will speak at the at deCordova about fake news — and ask how traditional media can work with communities, and reach out fully to everyone in them.

At the Crane estate, World Frontiers Forum’s David Edwards and Katie Rae of MIT’s The Engine will ask how everyday people can use digital technology without sacrificing their privacy. And journalist and environmentalist Dean Kuipers and Lauri Kranz, founder of Edible Gardens in L.A., talk about working through barriers to collaborate.

In the Berkshires

Out here, the balloon will arrive with a community party. On July 25, when the balloon reaches Field Farm, anyone can see it. It will become the center of a free family day (though you will need tickets to reserve your spot, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m.)

The balloon will stay tethered and inflated, so people can see it on the ground, as they can explore the house and folly with their Modernist art, the gardens and outdoor sculpture and miles of trails looking out at Mount Greylock. A family walk will follow the Pond Trail with nature crafts, and food trucks will offer Crooked Stick Pops, ice cream from SoCo Creamery and summer fare from Ooma Tesoro.

At night the balloon will become the focus of a light show. It has light and sound built in, Alonzo said, in an LED display. Aitken and Alonzo will speak here to wrap up the whole two-week experience, and they will look toward the Future of Culture.

Art defines what it means to be human, Alonzo says, and how it feels to be human, and yet, when people to address real-world problems, they rarely think of creators, or involve them.
“Culture gets disregarded,” he said.

Some artists confront powerful current events. He thinks of WPA murals and the Mexican muralist movement. But this country, he said, in the last hundred years, has seen seen a push toward abstraction and artwork that expresses no thoughts that might touch on politics.

“Now we’re coming around,” he said, “to the integral role the arts can play,” as it becomes clear that technology alone cannot solve the most critical challenges the country is facing.
“Artists and writers and philosophers should play a part,” he said, not solely economists and policy-makers.

“We have a complicated relationship with information now, with fake news and the way (people and information) can be manipulated by social media. Culture has always helped us to understand our reality in a deeper way. You can have all of the factual, scientific data, but if you can’t tell a story, no one will listen. One reason George Orwell chose to write stories is that he knew people would read them. It’s hard to argue with 1984.”

Artists and performers will surround this conversation with music, including No Age, a rock duo from Los Angeles, and Destroyer, a Canadian rock band from Vancouver founded by singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, and Alonzo and Aitken are working with Mass MoCA to expand on the evening. Food trucks will gather here too, and Notch Brewery will open a biergarten.

The balloon will travel south to Naumkeag on July 27 for the historic house’s annual garden party and an After Dark concert with dessert and live music — Bang on a Can musicians will perform Terry Riley’s In C. And then it will return to Field Farm for a final gala on July 28 in the early morning.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” Alonzo said. “Once in a lifetime. The Berkshires are blessed with culture, but still, you won’t see this again.”

All of the events are ticketed, whether or not they have an admission fee, and the properties may be closed to outside visitors while the events are going on. Anyone may also catch a glimpse of the balloon in its travels. At the time of the events, the Trustees of Reservations will post updates, including changes to the schedule in the event of weather, on Facebook and Instagram. For the full schedule, visit The Trustees of Reservations.

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