Doug Aitken demolishes house 28.07.11

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Scenes from Doug Aitken's artwork House (images: Courtesy of Doug Aitken, Victoria Miro Gallery and 303 Gallery)

"I decided to choreograph the demolition," says artist Doug Aitken, who recently knocked down his home – with his parents inside it.

Aitken had been planning to replace his 100-year-old house in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, which he says was poorly made and cold in winter, with a new one of his own design. Then he had the idea to turn the demolition into a film piece.

"I was in Europe with the demolition date approaching and I had a dream that I was in the house: everything was white and pristine and I saw my mother and father sitting at a long wooden table," says Aitken. "Then I started seeing the windows shattering and the ceiling rafters flexing. It 
was horrifying, shocking but hypnotic seeing your family there with everything disintegrating. It just seemed the most rational thing to do to call up my parents and ask them to make themselves available the next week to restage this."

Once he'd talked his parents into playing their roles, Aitken orchestrated a demolition process that was incremental, so that the house could come apart with no danger to them. In the resulting artwork, the destruction has a balletic grace. The senior Aitkens remain motionless, almost meditative, as the ceiling starts to come down on them.

The piece, entitled House, sits in a fine tradition of staged demolition from Gordon Matta-Clark's "building cuts" to the house fire in Andrei Tarkovsky's film The Sacrifice (which famously had to be re-orchestrated after the first take failed). Aitken describes the demolition as an "exorcism". "I was fixated on the potential of the house to be a series of concepts," he says. "This has become a piece where I can reclaim a place that I have a deep history in, and it's been a metamorphosis."

The next stage is the construction of the new house, which begins in the autumn. Aitken designed the building himself and calls it "the first case study in acid modernism".

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Words

Justin McGuirk

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I was fixated on the potential of the house to be a series of concepts

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