Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening is a multi-disciplinary project by Los-Angeles based artist Doug Aitken, which was hosted by the Barbican Centre 27.06.15-26.07.15. The exhibition combined contemporary art, music, dance, graphic design and film. The Barbican ‘live-exhibition’ was based on the original Station to Station project, a 4000 miles, 24 days train journey across the USA from New York to San Francisco, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean which took place in 2013.
The STS took over most of the Barbican, with the headquarters in the level 3 Art Gallery; opened to the Sculpture Court with Yurt Installations by Urs Fisher and screening of Kenneth Anger films. The court was also used for evening slideshows of Stephen Shore work Winslow, Arizona 9/19/13. There are two more Yurt Installations on the Lakeside terrace: the Model Universe by Liz Glyn and Ernesto Neto step-in sculpture.
The Curve gallery is still showing (until the 6th of September) Light Echoes by Aaron Koblin and Ben Tricklebank. There was also The Vinyl Factory Press, a mobile unit parked inside the spacious Silk Street Entrance. There were rehearsals, conversations and performances in the gallery, concerts in the Hall and screenings in the Cinema. This overwhelming wealth of happenings was ordered into a very clear programme and timetable, allowing orientation and planning.
An epicentre of STS – the Art Gallery was free and open – in every sense, free of charge and physically open to the Sculpture Court, allowing wandering in and out of the intense space filled with sound and images onto the sunny (most of the time) courtyard with colourful yurts and deckchairs. The centre of the gallery was filled by wrap-around video installations showing previously unseen footage from the US STS 2013. Artists in residence Doug Aitken (present most of the time) and his collaborator Austin Meredith edited sound and images live. The screening could have been watched from the big cushions scattered on the floor or from the first floor, overlooking the space. It was enough to pull apart curtains, hold together by Velcro, separating a screening room well to be in both places at once, immersed in a confluence of sounds from simultaneous activities. The first floor was hosting evolving Art Residencies, for instance Marcus Coates: Answer Painting, with questions left by public on the walls of his open studio.
Besides the video installation there are a few stable reference points: Tal R: Rosa Pagoda – a live woodblock Studio. It sits on a temporary, metal platform within the gallery, an exhibition of Olafur Eliason kinetic drawing machine and its drawings made during the train journey or the Poster Project. The rest was a flux of activity as the happening invited a diverse range of disciplines and artists. There were some well-known names like Ed Rusha and some local artists constantly changing during its 30 days.
The Barbican action revives the original train journey, as it is partly an exhibition of the previous event and partly a graft of its spirit onto a static ground. The name ‘living-exhibition’ makes sense as it moves in time, if not in space and transforms,
some artefact but first of all providing an audience with a new stimulus at every visit. This constant renewal seduces a visitor to return again and again.
“Ever changing and accessible” would be my most concise description of what was happening in the Barbican. The most outstanding characteristic of the STS was it’s relaxed openness. It was welcoming, focused on process and ever changing. The free access and open doors created an easy-going atmosphere of a summer festival. I loved massive cushions scattered around the video well, inviting to lounge, unwind and succumb into a trance of watching. These were great clues for visitors how to feel and behave. I had the ease, lightness and a spirit of communal enjoyment. Some residency spaces were separated from the public to enable artists to actually produce any work but still, everything was intended to reveal and engage into a process of making art. It was such a different experience to what we usually encounter going to a gallery.
The second, stationary London iteration of STS invites to revisit the trope of the east to west coast American trip, with all the poetic implications of freedom. How this project works in a tamed residential context of the Barbican? Was it a success? Can it be seen only for what it is, without comparisons to the experience of an epic train journey? What do I think about transplanting a nomadic action into a solid space keeping changes only to the temporal dimension?
The concept is great and placing it into a popular establishment guarantees a large and varied audience, which it fully deserves. Of course it must be different, the question being ‘It is a museum piece about the original STS action?’.
The happening has taken over as much of Barbican as possible without making life of residents a misery and paralysing a normal functioning of the Theatre and the Concert Hall. Station to Station did not reach the optimal – in my opinion – level of noise and commotion, appropriate to a desert party, which I dreamed about, precisely because it was not in a desert. As Barbican sits in the middle of a residential complex, the organisers needed to respect and accommodate their neighbours. I think that it was as good as it could have been in the given location, although it left me wishing for some chaos. I think it was a great experience.