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‘The idea of a “happening” is that there is little distance between the viewer and it, whatever “it” is,’ says Doug Aitken. ‘It’s not a convenient, digestible thing.’ The American artist is explaining the Californian-style craziness of ‘Station to Station’, over a Californian-style lunch of cold-pressed juice. Back in 2013, Aitken invited artists, musicians, choreographers and filmmakers on a 40,000-mile train Odyssey around the States to create spontaneous and experimental projects in major cities and off-the-grid locations.
Now it’s coming to London in 30 days of multidisciplinary ‘happenings’ that will take over the Barbican’s indoor and outdoor spaces. ‘We’re not interested in shipping an artwork from an artist’s studio 1,000 miles away and hanging it on the wall,’ says Aitken. ‘“Station to Station” is an ideology. It’s about creating a new platform that ignores the separation between mediums.’ In practice, this means you can watch Mike Figgis as he films and edits a new work in the art gallery, or wear a Lawrence Weiner bracelet as you take part in Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’s ‘Spiritual Speed Dating’ in the music studio.
You first conceived of 'Station to Station' as a series of spontaneous projects on board a train that travelled 4,000 miles from the east coast to the west coast of America...
‘I always saw "Station to Station" as an ideology. It wasn’t about what country it happens in or what means we use, whether its a train or a place. I saw it as about looking at culture now and seeing whether we really can create a new platform that’s outside the capitalist system that is about experimentation, ignoring the separation between mediums and really coming up with new languages. Within the project there’s a huge cross pollination from filmmakers like Mike Figgis or John Hog and musicians of all generations from Sucide to the Savages and artists like Ed Ruscha and Tacita Dean. It feels that we want to live in a world where our culture is so electric and stimulating, that it reflects where we are and where we are going as oppose to something which is slowed down and conservative.’
Why did you want to bring 'Station to Station' to London?
‘There is something so beautiful about it happening in London, because it’s such a turbine of cultures, it’s changing all the time and it feels nomadic even though it’s a place. It just seemed absolutely right to create "Station to Station" here.'
How will it adapt for its 30 days at the Barbican?
‘Barbican’s architecture has been fascinating because it’s a space that everyone gets lost in, it’s this giant concrete labyrinth which is so beautiful so we wanted to embrace that idea of getting lost so that you can go down a corridor and come across an enormous tent with a Kenneth Anger installation inside. And the art gallery has been completely deconstructed so there are layers of scaffolding, platforms and stages, where there used to be air. There will be recording rooms and spaces and places in there, where people are going to live or do residencies or make time-based works.’
So there will be this real sense of encounter?
‘Yes there’s active discovery as each day will be completely different. The viewer is integral to the works and these moments. The idea of a "happening" is that there is little distance between the viewer and it, whatever ‘it’ is. It’s an experience that’s on-going and evolving.’