Migration (empire) is a melancholy film about being on the move. It opens with fleeting images of industrial landscapes, housing settlements and train and road networks—traces of human existence that have been embedded in the land. The film’s protagonists are not humans, but American wild animals, which now find themselves far from their natural habitats in motel rooms that are as bleak as they are interchangeable.
A majestic horse scratches its hooves on the rose-colored velour carpet while longingly watching a herd of galloping conspecifics on a flickering television screen. An enormous bison has gotten his horns tangled up in a bedspread in the cramped confines of its room and has knocked over a table lamp. A pair of white peacocks timidly romp on their widely-spaced beds, while a beaver takes its first bath in the shiny, polished bathroom tub.
Doug Aitken filmed the animals as they explore their new surroundings. The camera work and the editing resulted in scenes that are reminiscent of American films. Aitken has linked the individual sequences into a suspenseful arch sustained by suggestive music. The artist, born in California in 1968, has continually explored the effects of human civilization on the environment in his work, which includes not only films, but photographs, sculptures and architectural interventions as well. With his multi-layered and aesthetically commanding oeuvre, he is one of the most important American multimedia artists of his generation.