Doug Aitken

Sweat beads on the brow of an Asian businessman while his fingers tap a nervous rhythm and his body convulses to a stress-induced chant. Meanwhile, a young professional woman hammers out her frustrations on a handball court. A factory worker takes a break, pounding the floor with a tap dance. Rapper Andre Benjamin gushes a verbal storm and then magically steps into thin air. Then silence, or something close: the background hum of the city, the buzz of fluorescent lights. These are the visual and sonic elements of Doug Aitken's impressive video installation Interiors, currently on display at the Henry Art Gallery. The three-screen video runs three near-wordless stories simultaneously on a sculptural framework of semi-transparent screens. The experience ranges from a frenetic sonic attack to quiet calm, all accompanied by a moody soundtrack reminiscent of Brian Eno. Each story is a vignette of urban loneliness, a poem about alienation and contemplation. But this is no avant-garde experiment. Unlike video artists Gary Hill or Steve McQueen, Aitken is rooted in the visual language of popular film. The scenes are gorgeous, but they could just as easily function as Banana Republic ads or music videos. Yet Aitken deftly uses the emotional punch of advertising for artistic rather than commercial purposes. And there's one moment that just floors me every time I see it: A young Asian couple looks down at their newborn child while standing in a junkyard at dawn. The scene is so achingly beautiful I have to sit through the whole cycle just to see it again. Henry Art Gallery, UW campus, 206-543-2280. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thurs. Exhibit runs through July 10.

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