Doug Aitken seeks source of creative genius

Doug Aitken Doug Aitken conducted interviews for his installation The Source over two years

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From Jack White to Jacques Herzog, influential artists, musicians, actors and architects have been interviewed by US artist Doug Aitken for an installation exploring how creative minds work.

There are voices coming from all directions.

On one side of the room, musician Jack White is talking about how his songs are influenced by living near factories. In another corner, actress Tilda Swinton is saying she is more interested in silence than language.

Singer Beck, meanwhile, is describing songs as "shaped chaos" and, next to him, photographer Stephen Shore is recalling his work with Andy Warhol.

On another side of the room, architect Jacques Herzog discusses the importance of instinct in design, while behind him acid folk singer Devendra Banhart ruminates on how his best ideas come while doing the washing up.

They are all speaking on screens around the edge of an octagonal "pavilion" built next to Tate Liverpool, which houses films of conversations between the acclaimed multi-media artist Doug Aitken and some of his cultural heroes.

"One person might walk in and be stimulated or attracted to someone they've never heard of over here," Aitken says.

Doug Aitken - The Source The interviews are projected on the outside wall of the pavilion at night

"It might be William Eggleston talking about creating these early colour photographs, it might be Devendra Banhart talking about this raw process of creating a song.

"It might be someone you've never heard of and one phrase sticks with you in a haunting way."

The idea behind the installation, titled The Source, is to strip away the distinctions between artforms and drill down into the creative urges of each person, with the theory that there is no reason why an architect cannot inspire an artist or an actor.

It is, Aitken says, a "pavilion of ideas". At another point, he describes his quest as an "archaeological excavation of ideas".

He says he wanted to avoid pigeonholes, critics and other media paraphernalia and get back to basics with one-on-one conversations.

"Language is used as a tool to sculpt what later becomes music or architecture or anything else," he says.

The California-based Aitken rose to prominence in the art world after winning the International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale.

He has since created work for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, while US actress Chloe Sevigny was the central character in a video work shown in London last year.

'Landscape of ideas'

The Source was commissioned for the Sky Arts Ignition series and is part of the Liverpool Biennial, a 10-week city-wide art festival.

Aitken embarked on the project after finding inspiration for an artwork not from other visual art but from the musical minimalism of composer Terry Riley.

"At that moment I had no interest in the history of visual art," Aitken recalls.

"But I found something incredibly valuable in musical structure, so I tracked down Terry Riley in San Francisco and I flew up there and we just had lunch. Terry's amazing - he's in his late 70s, he's this seminal character and he's also incredibly generous and warm.

Start Quote

It's very interesting when you hear someone like Jack White talking about the De Stijl movement”

End Quote Doug Aitken

"That casual conversation we had over lunch was so vital for me and that inspired me that there could be a project about others, about mapping a 21st Century landscape of ideas."

All the people he then approached to interview - from rising LA artist Ryan Trecartin to 93-year-old Italian architect Paolo Soleri - have "contributed to the 21st Century dialogue of culture", Aitken believes.

"I wanted individuals of all backgrounds and all ages. Paolo Soleri lives in Arizona and he's been building this utopian city for 40 years plus.

"It's important that someone like Paolo's voice is captured and heard and shared with people who might not have exposure to him.

"On the flip side, you have an actress like Tilda Swinton or a musician like Jack White, who have incredible visibility, but it's very interesting when you hear someone like Jack White talking about the De Stijl movement and reductionist painting and how that's influenced the musical structure he plays in."

'Perfect phrase'

Luckily, unlike some video artists, Aitken knows the value of editing. The conversations, some of which went on for two hours, have been boiled down to exactly four minutes each.

"There was this reducing and trying to find the essence, or that perfect phrase, or that really candid comment that really gives you an insight into someone's process," he says.

Inside the pavilion, designed by architect David Adjaye, six interviews play concurrently around the edges and merge into a cacophony in the centre of the room. Visitors can move towards a screen to listen in on individual conversations.

And while Aitken has, as he puts it, excavated ideas from these brilliant artistic minds, he believes there is no simple secret to creative genius.

"I don't think there is one secret," he says. "There are individuals in this work who seem to need a framework and a sense of repetition, and then they create within that repetition.

"There are other people who are very intuitive and one thing leads to another, and it's that exploration that stimulates them. One thing I found really interesting about this project is how many avenues it exposed."

Doug Aitken's The Source is at Tate Liverpool until 13 January.

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