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Wake Up! Doug Aitken’s ‘Sleepwalkers’ Returns in the Ultimate Box Set


Call a somnambulance. The multimedia goodness of the Sleepwalkers box.

Doug Aitken is up to his old tricks: enveloping museums in high-definition video projections that illuminate their facades and mesmerize passersby, which in the case of his latest project may include President Obama. The Los Angeles-based artist has transformed the National Mall’s Gordon Bunshaft-designed concrete donut (also known as the Hirshhorn) into a 360-degree convex-screen cinema aglow nightly through May 13 with his “SONG 1.” Meanwhile, the Seattle Art Museum recently commissioned Aitken to wrap a corner—the northwest, bien sûr—of its downtown HQ in a jumbo LED display that will debut early next year. The months between these Washingtonian works provide ample time to savor the Sleepwalkers box, an ultra-covetable multimedia remix of the public artwork that took New York by nocturnal storm in 2007.

Part deluxe commemorative edition, part DIY-spirited artist’s book, the Sleepwalkers box is a bold collaboration between Aitken, the Princeton Architectural Press, and DFA Records. The perforated cardboard cover reveals and conceals a fold-out poster of scenes from the five urban narratives (starring the likes of Donald Sutherland, Tilda Swinton, and Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power) that were projected onto the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art. Set that aside to discover a turntable-ready vinyl “picture disc,” which the strong-willed will manage to avoid framing as an art object. A book of “fragments, markings, and images” from the making of Sleepwalkers includes breathtaking full-bleed images as well as an interview in which Aitken discusses the installation with Jacques Herzog. “Your work needs an ideal architectural conservation to unfold its quality,” advises the architect.

At the recessed core of the box nest two flipbooks, a CD filled with unreleased tracks and original music, and a DVD that includes a video edit of Sleepwalkers (cut especially for the box) as well as a walkthrough of the work as it was installed at MoMA. Available in an edition of 1000, the box offers a rare opportunity to see Sleepwalkers from all angles, an achievement that Aitken usually thwarts through the use of multiple projectors and ever-changing narratives. In fact, after the MoMA installation, he created and filmed a couple of new characters. “I liked this idea that Sleepwalkers has not ended but evolved while also becoming site-specific to the next city it is shown,” said Aitken. “I embrace this evolution. I love encounters that don’t reveal themselves at once.”

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