After documenting the beginning of Doug Aitken's Station to Station, a public art project made possible by Levi's, in New York earlier this month, AnOther jumped aboard the train (designed as a travelling kinetic light sculpture) in Barstow, California for the last three stops. The project connected leading figures and underground creatives from the worlds of art, music, food, literature, and film for a series of cultural interventions and site-specific happenings.
There were countless highlights along the way – from the breathtaking changing landscapes seen through the 1940s train windows to the unique performances by artists including Beck, Peter Coffin and Cat Power. To celebrate the end of an epic Station to Station journey (that's 22 days, 10 cities, 5 yurts and 1 UFO), AnOther presents our top 10 highlights.
1. The drive-in movie theatre in Barstow
Situated midway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Barstow is a quiet place, known by the few who make a stop there whilst driving to the big cities, or recall the references in film classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Rail travel is at the heart of Barstow, with a large rail classification yard located there and the Union Pacific Railroad running through the town. All of the aforementioned made for a perfect stop on the Station to Station route. Each stop of the journey had a "happening" where musicians and artists were invited to perform, and the Barstow happening took place at the Skyline Drive-In, located on the north-east outskirts of the city and is one of the last remaining operating drive-in theatres operating in the county.
2. Stephen Shore's photo projection
There could be no better way than starting an evening of entertainment in the Californian desert than with an all-American photo project by Stephen Shore. The acclaimed photographer, feted for his images of banal scenes and objects in the United States, and for his pioneering use of colour in art photography, presented 180 images which were projected on a huge outdoor screen at the Drive-In, accompanied by music from experimental punk duo No Age.
3. The Auctioneers
Alongside a roster of well-known artists and musicians including Beck, Cat Power and Kenneth Anger, the happening curated by Doug Aitken, presented a selection of lesser-known, yet equally compelling performers. Having travelled for the entire duration of the train journey and collaborated with Aitken on previous projects, a duo referred to as The Auctioneers opened proceedings on the main stage with a powerful vocal performance, moving through the crowd with whip-cracker Chris Camp, which helped to build excitement in the crowd. The duo, Eli Detweiler, Jr. and Denise Shear have won countless awards with their high-speed number calling.
"Beck gave an epic performance which included a spooky appearance from artist Peter Coffin's UFO in the sky above"
4. Cat Power
One of the most mesmerising performances came from Cat Power in Barstow. "Last night was the best performance for me because it was super realistic being in the desert in such an open space," she explained to AnOther aboard the train the next day. "There was nothing man-made around, so it liberates everyone’s subconscious without them really knowing it. That’s the magic of the desert."
5. Beck and the gospel choir
Beck is a brilliant live performer, captivating his audience with powerful vocals, guitars, robot dancing and blasts on his harmonica. For Station to Station, this was complemented by an energetic backing from a full choir which travelled with the musician from Barstow to LA. His track list included Golden Age, Lonesome Tears, One Foot in the Grave, Fourteen Rivers and new song Wake Up. Epic. Especially with a spooky appearance from artist Peter Coffin's UFO in the sky above.
6. Union Station in Los Angeles
After a desert happening in Barstow, the next stop was Union Station in LA, the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. The station first opened in May 1939, partially designed by John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson who had also designed Los Angeles City Hall. The structure combines Dutch Colonial Revival architecture (at the suggestion of the Dutch-born Jan von der Linden), Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne style, with architectural details such as eight-pointed stars. The lower part of the interior walls is covered in travertine marble, and the upper part is covered with an early form of acoustical tile. The floor in the large rooms is terra cotta tile with a central strip of inlaid marble (including travertine, somewhat unusual in floors since it is soft).
"This project was really about empowering the viewer," explained artist organiser Doug Aitken the day after the LA happening. "You can walk into the situation and discover something, but you might also be a part of something that’s larger than you… a kind of explosion. Last night there was a very interesting moment which happened when a procession and a whip-cracker went through Union Station. There were lots of people on their way home witnessing something unexpected. The crossover of regular communters and the "happening" was a really telling moment for me."
7. Nicolas Provost's Gravity
Belgian artist Nicolas Provost presented his short film Gravity on a triptych of screens at the LA happening at Union Station. The mesmerising short features a montage of Hollywood couples in various stages of embrace. The cinematic kiss has become a ubiquitous and almost clichéd movie moment, but in this six-minute film it is taken out of its context entirely and abstracted by a sugary soundtrack.
8. The train journey from LA to Oakland
After two days of Californian desert, and LA cityscape, the landscape of the journey during the 12 hours to San Francisco flowed with breathtaking views of the ocean and plummeting canyons.
"In Nicholas Provost's marvellous short Gravity, the cinematic kiss is taken out of its context entirely and abstracted by a sugary soundtrack"
9. Twin Shadow
After 4,200 miles, the cross-country nomadic journey came to a final stop in Northern California at West Oakland’s abandoned 16th Street Station. The station, built in 1912 but not used regularly since 1994, became the backdrop from a myriad of exhilariting performances courtesy of Savages, The Congos, Cold Cave and Dan Deacon. One of AnOther's highlights was Twin Shadow, led by Dominican Republic-born and Florida-raised George Lewis Jr.
10. Olaf Breuning's smoke installation
New York–based Swiss artist created site-specific smoke installations for the New York, Santa Fe, Barstow and Oakland stops. The Oakland finale felt particularly fitting, watched by many of those that had participated in the journey for the whole month. The Smoke Bombs have been a part of Breuning's working practice since 2008, comprising multi-tiered scaffolding and exploding pigment. The installations represent Breuning’s photographic technique of leaving the chaos of production within a frame – offering the audience a ‘behind-the-scenes’ perspective of the production.
Station to Station raised funds through ticket sales and donations to support non-traditional programming at nine partner museums around the USA. Stay tuned for AnOther's exclusive Station to Station films coming soon, featuring interviews with Cat Power and Doug Aitken.
Text by Laura Bradley