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in Filmmaking
on Feb 11, 2007

I was surprised how purely lovely I found Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers, currently on display through tomorrow (Monday) night outside the Museum of Modern Art. Using multiple projectors to beam images onto walls and screens affixed outside the museum, Aitken’s public art film has an appealingly simple concept: the synchronous, small-scale moments that echo between a group of otherwise disparate New Yorkers going about their daily lives.

With actors like Tilda Swinton, Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), Seu Jorge and Donald Sutherland and carefully composed images that alternate between shallow focus portraits and geometric abstraction, Aitken’s silent city cinema does what the best public art always does: it causes you to see the city anew.

Because you’re watching an image without a soundtrack, your ears pay a heightened attention to the sounds around you. And, at least on this cold Sunday evening, I was struck by how quiet the city can be. Midway between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the sound of the cars hurling lengthwise across the city bled into a dull and faraway-seeming ambient hum. One couple watching Sleepwalkers had their cell phone on speaker, playing MOMA’s museum talk on the piece, but otherwise the crowd was silent. They just stared at Aitken’s city dwellers, whose portraits seemed like social x-rays of the city around them.

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