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Photo by: Jeremy Farmer

Photos by Jeremy Farmer

There are similarities between artist Doug Aitken's brainchild, the Station to Station art/music tour crossing the States right now, and the art happenings of the '60s. 

The filmic interludes, the choreographed surprises, the repurposing of space, the combination/juxtaposition of musical acts from wildly different genres, the artist-centered programming—all made for the right ingredients to shake us up in our audiovisual realms.

But there are just as many details that make it unique and uniquely 2013—the traveling-by-train show, the use of a magnificent public space rather than a squatted building or old theater, a corporate sponsor in Levi's, and the relative sobriety of the multigenerational crowd. Also, there's a bit about the train Aitken has designed and its on-board studios.

Happenings were once deliberately bizarre in-crowd events for hardcore bohemians. Aitken's are open to the public and not particularly hard to understand for the everyman. Still, one couldn't help but recall the sonic backdrops laid by improvising Pink Floyd Sound at the London happenings when one walked in to an ambient noise set from L.A.'s No Age. Welcome to a contemporary freak-out, it seemed to say.

In our day and age, despite the availability of 24/7 everything music, we still have a hard time placing live music in the background. It's hard not notice a band performing in front of you. So No Age, Caught on Tape (Thurston Moore's duo), the jazzy Theaster Gates/Black Monks of Mississippi, and others took center stage at the event and commanded attention as in a concert format. But Moore, in particular, took the art angle to heart—delivering a spoken "song" for Kurt Cobain that shook up the concert formula. A headliner of sorts, Mavis Staples, was surely a revelation to those unfamiliar, but most Chicagoans who would hit this kind of event were probably well versed. 

Yurts for artist installations, crafts (bagmakers, rug weavers), and a Levi's capsule collection provided interesting and interactive diversion, but didn't have the requisite weird factor to be come across as transformative art. Printed matter, posters from Aitken and others, were rather nonchalantly on display in a central area of the party—a hard place to get attention for a poster.

The big winner in the competition for the art crowd gaze was video. The video sets projected on three screens between live acts were sometimes jarring, sometimes hypnotic, arousing curiosity—almost improbably in our YouTube/Instagram overloaded world—from historic bits from Raymond Pettibon or re-edited "Wonder Woman" episodes to a short film shot on Vieques. The video element dazzled and wowed—and that's the bit that felt like art.

Station to Station visits St. Paul, MN tonight.

Doug Aitken's latest Happening will be mobile. The trip will see multimedia artist Aitken and an impressive list of collaborators travel by train from New York to San Francisco with stops in cities along the way like St. Paul, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as well as more out of the way locations like Lamy, New Mexico and Winslow, Arizona. There will be live performances in each city, and the train will function as a mobile studio and broadcast performances en route. The musical lineup includes Savages, No Age, a rare show from The Fiery Furnaces, and a solo performance from David Longstreth from Dirty Projectors among others. The trip will feature culinary contributions from Alice Waters and Leif Hedendal.

Station To Station leaves NYC on September 8 and arrives in San Francisco 20 days later. 


Pitchfork TV's documentary about Aitken's Song 1 Happening: