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Doug Aitken’s 30 Days of Art Happenings Takes Over London’s Barbican Centre

In Doug Aitken’s ‘Station to Station’, art is a journey and always in flux. Like life itself.

by DJ Pangburn
Jul 19 2015, 12:45pm

Light Echoes. Station to Station, Barbican Centre. Image: Getty Images

Doug Aitken’s latest iteration of Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening, which runs from June 27 to July 26 at London’s Barbican Centre, might be stationary but it’s hardly static. The first transcontinental multidisciplinary Station to Station project (2013) was mobile. By way of a roving train that doubled as a nomadic light sculpture, Aitken stopped in American cities, towns, and places not necessarily on anyone’s map so that artists in the fields of music, film, and art could collaborate to create “happenings”.

Aitken apparently learned something about motion and energy in that series of nomadic happenings. Namely, that exhibitions set up in a single space could, and perhaps more importantly, should have a sense of daily or even hourly flux. That’s not to say that every exhibit, space, or element in the Station to Station “living exhibition” is in total flux. Some exhibits occupy spaces for the duration of the month-long series of happenings.

Film Projection. Station to Station, Barbican Centre. Image: Getty Images

Aaron Koblin and Ben Tricklebank, for instance, are occupying Barbican’s Curve for their interactive laser commission Light Echoes. Visitors enter through a black theatrical drape, then wait as the laser projects down from the ceiling to create a grainy multi-colored line that spreads down the wall and across the floor. As the laser — backed by an evocative electronic music composition — moves slowly along the Curve’s long corridor, visitors follow, entering an immersive and mysterious environment.

Station to Station - The Opening Weekend from Barbican Centre on Vimeo.

What Light Echoes visitors don’t realize is that as the laser sweeps the void, it maps each visitors’ journey frame by frame. Once the laser show terminates, people proceed around the Curve until a large screen appears, which shows a virtual recreation of journey, with the viewers (and participant’s) spectral black doppelgangers moving in flickering digital bursts. With the real and virtual journeys now complete, viewers come to Light Echoes’s third movement: virtual light and words mapped onto a real landscape of train tracks, evoking Aitken’s original Station to Station journey.

Inside a large space at the rear of the Barbican’s Art Gallery, Aitken continuously projects an immersive, wrap-around video installation of previously unseen footage from his US Station to Station project. The clips, some as short as a few seconds, others longer, feature clips of musicians like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore playing beautiful white noise and Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford explaining how his art taps into advertising’s subliminal messaging power. This space features nightly cinema installations by artist and filmmakers such as Nam June Paik, Gus Van Sant, Angelica Mesiti, and others.

Film Projection. Station to Station, Barbican Centre. Image: Getty Images.

There is also Tal R’s Rosa Pagoda, a live woodblock studio. Said to be inspired by the Fluxus group’s “intermedia” (cross-disciplinary) happenings, the studio is a space for artists like Raymond Pettibon and Rosemarie Trockel to create poster designs centered on the idea of “freedom”. The prints, all in magenta hues, are hung to dry and later sold at the Art Gallery shop. There is an improvisational feel to the woodblock prints. Like Fluxus works, they don’t have the vibe of fine art, but the feel of anti-art; or at least something more approachable than what the intelligentsia regularly dishes out at big galleries and museums.

Much like the Rosa Pagoda space, Station to Station features two recording studios sponsored by The Vinyl Factory, which “captures” new music and live performances. Legendary electronic duo Suicide, post-industrial act Factory Floor and experimental composer Terry Riley have all recorded and performed in these studios.

Tal R Rosa Pagoda. Station to Station, Barbican Centre. Image: Getty images

As with the prints, the recordings — pressed on the ground floor in what looks like a converted shipping container — are sold in the Art Gallery shop with album sleeve design work that must have been done on sight. According to the Barbican, The Vinyl Factory will ultimately press 6,000 copies of 20 different albums over the month-long exhibition.

Music Recording Studio. Station to Station, Barbican Centre. Image: Getty Images

Friday’s programming also featured one of the more oddly beautiful and mesmerizing happenings at Aiken’s Station to Station. In this very white dance residency space, overtone singer Anna-Maria Hefele suddenly materialized in front of a music stand and microphone. Looking somewhat like a confused alien dropping in on our planet for twenty minutes, Hefele sang in two tones simultaneously to the wonder of a small audience.

Located in the Barbican’s Sculpture Curt are two yurts. No, people aren’t temporarily living in them for visitors’ voyeuristic pleasure (although that would be awesome). Instead, the yurts house multimedia installations. One is dedicated to the work of infamous Los Angeles experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, whose technicolor imagery, occult obsessions, surrealist tendencies and homoeroticism always fascinate. Visitors can also lie down in Urs Fischer’s installation, which features a white bed, a glittering disco ball and a hall of mirrors.

Yurt installation by Urs Fisher. Station to Station. Barbican Centre. Image: Getty Images

Two more yurts occupy the Barbican’s Lakeside courtyard. One contains Ernesto Neto’s mesmerizing nomadic installation Soul Breathing, a luminous red room with fabrics that descend from the ceiling and touch the floor. A few feet away, another yurt houses Model Universe, Los Angeles-based artist Liz Glynn’s dark space for illustrated lectures on the universe and human life. It’s also out in this courtyard where colorful smoke bombs are set off daily at 6:00PM, part of Olaf Breuning’s Smoke installation.

Station to Station also features a variety of special ticketed events, from dance to audio-visual performances to films and live music. To properly and completely encapsulate Doug Aitken’s Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening, you’d need a book and/or documentary film. It’s impossible to describe in short form. And this, it seems, is by design.Aitken isn’t interested in finished art or product. For him, Station to Station is about the journey.

Olaf Breuning Smoke installation. Station to Station. Barbican Centre. Image: Getty images

Learn more about Station to Station programming click here

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