Personal History: Doug Aitken

Joan Didion’s work spanned one artist’s personal and professional history.

doug aitken

My mother was a journalist and about the same age as Joan Didion. I remember being really young and she’d be talking about something that Joan had written, over dinner. It’s been interesting growing up with these reflections of her and her ideology, from different parts of my life. There was something in her writing that spoke to me. There’s something sharper, vaster, leaner about the way she’d use language that also reflects the way I use language in my artworks. Her writing is really in the present, which gives you an opportunity to look around at that experience or that subject and kind of zoom out and have an aerial view.

Different works of mine have been closer to her. In my recent show, Flags and Debris, I used a quote from The White Album for the first fabric piece you see. Black Mirror, a film about a nomadic single woman who’s constantly moving from city to city, motel to hotel, was inspired by the sensibility of Play It As It Lays. Sometimes you find someone who’s hit a certain frequency, and you recognize yourself within that frequency. There are moments with Didion’s work where I’ve found that connection, which is very unusual.•

—As told to Steffie Nelson

Doug Aitken is an American artist and filmmaker whose 2021 exhibitions included the installation Green Lens at the Venice Biennale and Flags and Debris at Regen Projects.
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