I considered Doug Aitken to be a big thinker when I read about his Song 1, a huge sound and video installation enveloping the Hirshorn Museum, or his Mirror, a video project that consists of an L.E.D screen that’s wrapped around the facade of the Seattle Art Museum.
With his latest project, Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening, Aitken has taken “installation” to a whole other level. For three weeks this September a train decked out with L.E.D lights will travel from New York City to San Francisco making 10 stops along the way (next stop St. Paul, Minneapolis on Sept 12). Aitken designed the train as a kind of kinetic sculpture, or studio. At each stop artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and other creatives will participate in site-specific happenings.
Aitken’s goal with the project is to address some big questions, such as “Who are we? Where are we going? And, at this moment, how can we express ourselves?” In an effort to create this “modern cultural manifesto,” Aitkin invited individuals such as Olaf Breuning, Urs Fischer, Christian Jankowski, Lawrence Weiner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Deacon and Dave Hickey (and many others) to participate. Everyone involved was asked to reconsider the way they create. Ed Ruscha, for instance, thought up a cactus omelet that will be made and served to participants in Winslow, Arizona.
The project, made possible by Levi’s, will also raise funds for various cultural institutions across the country through ticket sales (yes you can get tickets if they are still available for the happening in a city near you) and donations from partners, institutions and the public.
The concept of Station to Station confronts and challenges the system whereby art is, all to often in today’s society, created solely for museums and galleries. Station to Station embraces the key components of a 1960s happening, especially spontaneity and audience engagement, but the enormity of scale raises the stakes. I admire Aitkin’s ambition particularly because, in the spirit of a true happening, Station to Station could go off without a hitch, or could go completely awry. Whose to say though which would be worse?