14. July 2015

The thirty-day happening “Station to Station” by Doug Aitken is currently taking place at the Barbican Centre in London. Curator Matthias Ulrich could not miss out on it, of course.

One of the Brutalist buildings in London that has not yet been demolished bears the name Barbican Centre, and in truth it is an architectural monster that accommodates a residential complex as well as a cultural and conference center. In the art world, the latter, on the other hand, is known simply as Barbican and is currently hosting an extraordinary art project initiated by Doug Aitken. "Station to Station: A 30-Day Happening" developed from a project two years older during which Aitken traveled in a converted passenger train from the East Coast to the West Coast, stopping several times between New York and San Francisco to present performances, concerts, and other time-based works of art.

Aitken has now invited a considerable number of those who participated in the project to London to perform a whole range of activities and create an intense synthesis of the arts at one of various locations in the Barbican Centre during a thirty-day art marathon from June 27 to July 26. Many things will be produced once more in situ and take into account the respective spatial conditions, such as, for example, a film by Ian Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who recently brought a striking portrait of Nick Cave into movie theaters ("29,000 Days on Earth"). There will furthermore be twenty resident artists developing new works in temporary studios, ranging from speed dating between different religions by the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes and Albert Oehlen producing a painting on one day to an interplay of creating pictures, dance, and music by Martin Creed. Installations by Ernesto Neto or by Urs Fischer are on view in round tents distributed around the site. One of the highlights in the so-called curve is the laser installation "Light Echoes" by von Aaron Koblin and Ben Tricklebank.

At the opening on June 26 we had already advanced to a front position in the line in front of the entrance to the curve when Doug Aitken's girlfriend abducted us to take us to a better place in line or even get us in directly. Instead, we got our first free beer of the evening and watched as people gradually came out of the laser installation. We were standing at the curve's exit and walked the entire way back to the entrance, where we met Jane Alison, the artistic director of the Barbican. After a brief exchange of words between Max Hollein and her, we walked along what had meanwhile become an even longer line directly into the laser installation. The show began; a white frame of light embraced the ceiling, the walls, and the floor and crawled slowly toward us. Accompanied by a reserved hum, which sounded like the announcement of a distant thunderstorm, the frame finally took us on a slow ramble through the space. Our careful steps perceived loose, occasionally solid ground, yet what that meant was not revealed until the end when we had left the laser zone: we had been walking over text whose intermediate spaces were filled with gravel.

The beer bar behind the curve's exit was restocked. Outside the building, Olaf Breuning's troop set about causing colored smoke to rise upward. Pyrotechnical gear was mounted on a fence as large as a garage door and spit billows of color into the sky. It was reminiscent of a dripping that the coincidence factor of wind caused to take shape above our heads and shortly thereafter blow over. With the last hissing and as the applause subsided, apocalyptic drum and clarinet sounds rumbled down behind us. Eight men in Rajasthan costumes provided a crude blend of sentimental Bollywood tracks and Peter Herbolzheimer's big-band sound that effortlessly blew away the last particles of floating color. The joie de vivre with which the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band made music immediately infected the visitors, many of whom were holding up their mobile phones. After a brilliant highlight topped off by a dancing female dervish, the caravan moved up the stairs again with us following behind. To the next item on the program, which was waiting in the exhibition spaces and shortly in front of them at a beer bar on a plateau populated by further tents semisurrounded by a multistory building with convexly shaped balconies. Liam Billick allegedly lived in one of them, while I actually spotted Jeremy Deller.

We finally meet Doug Aitken, who takes us behind the barrier, from where one has a balustrade view into a cube onto which films are being projected all around. Along with his assistant Austin, who is wearing headphones and standing in front of the control desk and the monitors, Aitken choreographs the center space using the vast amount of footage that is left over from his productions. Numerous projects are located around this space, and over the course of thirty days they continue to grow, leaving the center like moving tentacles, seizing the Barbican and providing the architectural monster with an artistic monster.