Activity: Explore Doug Aitken’s migration (empire)

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

We have a series of fun, family-friendly activities inspired by Doug Aitken’s migration (empire) for you! Start by watching the video, and then follow along with these three activities to create your own artworks inspired by migration (empire).

Activity #1: An Unfamiliar Place

The North American migratory animals in Doug Aitken’s video are exploring strange and unfamiliar habitats. Imagine what it’s like to explore a motel room from their point of view.

  • What might the horse think and see here?
  • How does the horse react to this motel room?
A horse stands in the middle of a motel room with the foot of the motel bed in the foreground, a TV mounted on the wall is playing footage of a horse running through a field 
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, film still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Go on an Adventure

  1. Choose a stuffed animal, toy, or imaginary friend who will explore your home.
  2. Invite them to experience environments and activities that are ordinary to you, and document their adventure with photographs or video.
  3. Put yourself in their hooves, claws, or paws, and imagine what they are thinking and seeing in this unusual place. How might they react to their new surroundings? You could invite them to partake in one of your hobbies or dinner with your favorite people!

Activity #2: Postcards From Somewhere New

The animals in Doug Aitken’s video are visiting places that are unknown to them. Imagine yourself in a place that is new to you, and make a postcard to share your experience with someone else!

A brown owl sits on a bed in a motel room, which is covered in feathers that float in the air around it
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, film still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Make a Postcard

  • Take a trip to a far-off land (real or imagined) and sketch a postcard of the place.
  • What do you envision in the foreground, middle ground, and background?
  • Add color!
  • On the back of the postcard, write a few sentences describing your experience. For instance: what is the weather? What does the landscape look like? Address your postcard to a friend or family member and add a stamp. Make sure to mail it!

Activity #3: Setting Your Own Scene

Artist Doug Aitken filmed migration (empire) in different motel rooms across the United States, showing how similar buildings can look in different places. Through his lens, the artist turned real motel rooms into different movie scenes by making decisions about lighting, furniture and object placement. His scenes provided intentional backgrounds for the animal characters to have experiences in their new environment. Consider the two different stills from the video below.

A deer rummages through a motel mini fridge
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, production still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Two white peacocks stand on a hotel bed, a lit table lamp is visible behind them
Doug Aitken, migration (empire) (detail), 2008, single-channel video (color, sound), 24:28 minutes, production still; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.11. Courtesy of the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Make Your Own Film Set

  1. Take a look around the room you’re currently occupying. Imagine you are turning your room into a movie scene.
  2. Take a moment to view the room from different locations. Kneel on the ground, stand on a chair, try a few angles. Select one angle of the room that you’d like to capture in your scene.
  3. Next consider the lighting in this space. How does the current lighting impact what you see? Experiment by turning on and off the lights or opening and closing blinds.
  4. When you’re ready, take a few photographs. Try a few shots until you get it just right!
  5. Look at your favorite photograph. What kind of movie is this scene from? Who would star in this movie? What kind of scene is happening in your space?
  6. Want to make more scenes? Repeat the activity and create your own series.

Share your postcards and photographs with us on social media and we might feature your creation!