By Rachael Steven

Film space at Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening by Doug Aitken. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty, courtesy of the Barbican Centre

Doug Aitken’s travelling arts project, Station to Station, has arrived at London’s Barbican Centre for 30 days of events spanning music, film, dance, design and performance art. We took a look around the exhibition, which follows an ambitious programme of “cultural happenings” in the US.

Two years ago, Doug Aitken teamed up with Levi’s to launch a series of ‘nomadic cultural happenings’ across the US. Accompanied by an ever-changing line-up of artists and musicians, he travelled from New York to California in a 1950s train, stopping to host one-off events in 10 cities. Each featured a different line-up, but all combined dance, music, art installations and short filmat an event in Pittsburgh, held in the city’s central station, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and punk band No Age performed alongside a Japanese percussion trio and a Kansas marching band, with a courtyard dotted with colourful yurts and craftspeople stitching denim.

The project received a mixed response in the USit was criticised in California and New York for not involving local artistsbut thousands turned up to watch events in their home towns (you can read our feature on it here). The project has now arrived at the Barbican, with a 30-day line-up involving over 100 artists, designers, choreographers, film-makers and musicians from Beck to Nozinja.

At a launch event last weekend, visitors were welcomed by Olaf Breuning’s colourful smoke bombs (pictured below), a performance from a Rhajasthan brass band and a gig from rock band The Boredoms. By day, it’s a quieter affair, but there’s still plenty to see.

At the entrance to the show, the Vinyl Factory has set up a mobile printing press, first launched as part of a Christian Marclay exhibition which we wrote about back in February this year. You can watch vinyl being rolled, pressed, cut and packaged, and buy a record for £20.

The Vinyl Factory Press, created in collaboration with Christian Marclay and now on display at Station to Station. Images © Arianna Power

In the curve gallery, digital artist Aaron Koblin and director Ben Tricklebank have created an oddly hypnotic light installation. A single laser projects a wall of light from ceiling to floor, which tracks visitors’ movements and travels through the space, encouraging visitors to walk towards it. At the other end of the gallery are two large moving image works; one with some beautifully shot footage of train tracks, and another with typographic projections (pictured below).

Aaron Koblin & Ben Tricklebank’s Light Echoes at Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening by Doug Aitken. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty, courtesy of the Barbican Centre

In the art gallery upstairs, there is wood block printing at Tal R’s Rosa Pagoda (shown below) and, on my visit, a live painting session with Albert Oehlen. From an upstairs viewing platform, visitors can look down on Oehlen as he cuts, draws, plans and paints on a giant canvas, narrating via a translator throughout the process.


Elsewhere are a series of studio spaces where visitors can watch artists, dancers and musicians at work: Fraser Muggeridge studio is designing and printing record sleeves until July 13, after which Abake will take over, dancers and choreographers are rehearsing and Marcus Coates is answer paintingvisitors can pin a question to a wall, Coates will select one from random and paint an image in response. Those whose questions are selected are also invited to the space for a ‘consultation’ with Coates. Event partner The Vinyl Factory has also set up a recording studio where producers will be editing music, and visitors can arrange a tour of the space, or watch discussions and performances in the music studio next door.

Fraser Muggeridge & Abake’s studio

When the gallery is quiet, watching the studios, dancers and musicians at work all feels a little self-conscious, but this will likely change as the exhibition continues. It’s a fascinating look at making, and captures Aitken’s aim of creating a ‘living’ event where no two days are the same. Later in the month, film-maker Mike Figgis will be answering questions and editing a new short, and Martin Creed will be painting and working with his band and dancers from July 8-11.

Marcus Coates’ live painting studio

In another gallery space, a 12-hour installation composed by Aitken and Austin Meredith is projected on to several large screens, which visitors can watch while lounging on bean bags and mats on the floor. The footage includes scenes from the original Station to Station trip, as well as work from artists involved in the project. There’s also a poster display, an exhibition of prints by Olafur Eliasson created using a kinetic drawing machine and a room where abstract audio clips from sound artist Steve Roden play on a loop.

Eliasson’s prints and live drawing machine

On top of the events taking place every day, there are a series of ticketed events on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from electronic gigs and music residencies, to performances by choreographers from New York, Belgium and Glasgow. While these events are paid for, the gallery is free to browse during the day, and has a relaxed atmosphere, with visitors invited to wander, have a lie down, take pictures or browse the space for as long as they please.

The event has so far received a mixed reactionAdrian Searles likened installations to “a collection of inconsequential sideshow, party-art entertainments” in the Guardianbut the project deserves praise for its ambition.

With so many artists involved, it can feel a little nebulous, and some of the works are more engaging than others (the yurts and poster display are a little underwhelming), but it also offers a rare chance to see painters, graphic designers, dancers, music producers, film-makers and directors at work and in Q&A sessions.

Olaf Breuning’s smoke bombs at the opening of Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening by Doug Aitken. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty, courtesy of the Barbican Centre

A Rhajasthan heritage band performs at the opening of Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening by Doug Aitken. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty, courtesy of the Barbican Centre

As the event is stationed in one place, it lacks some of the spontaneity of the US tour–one of the most fascinating things about the US project was seeing actual stations transformed into chaotic venues for an unlikely group of artists for just a few hours, before Aitken and his companions moved on to their next destination–but it is more accessible. Just a few hundred tickets were released for each US event, but most of the programme at the Barbican is free and open to all. The sheer number of people involved is hugely impressive, and Aitken and his co-curators have ensured that each day will offer visitors something a little different.

Station to Station is on at the Barbican Centre until July 27. For details or to see the full programme, visit

Read more here:: Station to Station arrives at the Barbican