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Art Exhibit by Train

A rendering of the "Station to Station" train by Doug Aitken. (Doug Aitken / June 29, 2010)

According to Fast Company: Festival Express, the 1970s train tour with The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and other rock greats was forgotten for nearly 30 years. Now, it inspires a new generation of traveling festivals, including the most ambitious one yet from artist Doug Aitken, scheduled to debut this September.

An image from Sleepwalkers by Doug Aitken

The most ambitious revival of Festival Express to date will debut this fall from artist Doug Aitken: a three-week-long train trek and series of performances called Station to Station that will unfold across 10 U.S. cities. The train will travel from New York to Pittsburgh on Sept. 8 and then make stops in Minneapolis and St. Paul; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo., Lamy, N.M; Winslow, Ariz.; Barstow, Calif.; and Los Angeles before arriving in Oakland and San Francisco on Sept. 28.

Image from Song1 by Doug Aitken

Aitken is best known for his large-scale video projections, installations, and experimental films, on which he frequently collaborates with musicians like Andre 3000, No Age, and Cat Power. Station to Station will be his magnum opus to the marriage of the moving image and sound, and from what we’ve heard so far, it’s shaping up to be something like a Coachella on wheels crossed with a museum exhibition on steroids. It’s shaping up to be the most ambitious spectacle the American railroad system has seen yet.

Text Sculpture by Doug Aitken

In addition to concert performances, Station to Station will feature a curated film program and will commission short films from several leading filmmakers. By partnering with cultural institutions and curators in each city, the event will be tapping into the local cultural communities, which will be represented in pop-up tents at each stop housing local craft food and design purveyors. And, in what may be the most opulent gesture of the whole campaign, Aitken is transforming the 10-car charter train itself into a massive LED light installation.

An image from Electric Earth by Doug Aitken

So how is this artist going to pull all this off? Apart from leveraging his A-list connections, Aitken has learned from his travelling festival predecessors and realized that ticket sales alone cannot sustain such extravagance. In search of a different financial model, he’s turned the whole thing into a branded campaign and sold it to Levi’s, a partner that fits with the Americana iconography Station to Station celebrates. The brand partnership will not only finance Station to Station, it will allow Aitken to donate proceeds towards funding a multimuseum arts program throughout 2014.

Installation view of I am In You by Doug Aitken, 2000

“We live in a world where art exists in galleries and museums, and musicians have to play the same venues over and over,” said the artist, 45, in his studio in Venice, Calif. “This is a way for artists to stretch creatively.”

Artists who have agreed so far to participate: Kenneth Anger, Olaf Breuning, Peter Coffin, Urs Fischer, Meschac Gaba, Liz Glynn, Christian Jankowski, Carsten Holler, Aaron Koblin, Ernesto Neto, Jack Pierson, Stephen Shore, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Lawrence Weiner. Musicians include Fiery Furnaces, Nite Jewel, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Deacon, No Age, Ariel Pink and Beck — who is talking about performing with a gospel choir. Chefs Alice Waters and Leif Hedendal are working on the food.

Image from Sonic Pavillion by Doug Aitken, 2009

To read more about this moving public art exhibit click here. If you’re lucky enough to have it roll through your town this fall, be sure to tell us how you like it here on WallSpin.


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