Forget all the standard art forms,” said artist Allan Kaprow in his 1960s lecture “How to Make a Happening.” “Don’t paint pictures, don’t make poetry, don’t build architecture, don’t arrange dances, don’t write plays, don’t compose music, don’t make movies, and above all, don’t think you’ll get a happening out of putting all these together. … The point is to make something new, something that doesn’t even remotely remind you of culture.”
Kaprow is credited with inventing the art form known as a happening in late ’50s. One of the first such events was called 18 Happenings in 6 Parts and took place at Reuben Gallery in New York. The gallery was divided into different rooms in which performers executed a series of prescribed actions, like squeezing oranges and lighting matches. In conceiving of the happening, Kaprow’s aim was to inject both the familiar rhythms and the unexpected detours of life into art. In Assemblages, Environments and Happenings, he wrote, “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible. … By avoiding the artistic modes, there is the good chance that a new language will develop that has its own standards.”
A new national art project called Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening arrives in the Santa Fe Railyard on Wednesday, Sept. 18. The project will move across the country on a nine-car train, but because of logistical constraints, the train will not come to Santa Fe from Albuquerque (artists, performers, and crew will travel north by bus).
The event is at once orchestrated and chaotic: dozens of visual artists, musicians, architects, chefs, and other creatively inclined people will create a collaborative experience — if not quite a Kaprow happening, at least in the tradition of one. Before the project launched on Sept. 6, no one involved in Station to Station was sure what it would look, sound, or feel like, or what would occur once it was set in motion.
Station to Station was created by Doug Aitken, a visual artist who works mainly in video and digital media. Initially, what’s most striking about the project is its scale: the sheer number of the participants and works presented during the tour makes it difficult to pin down and impossible to digest at once. Beginning in New York and concluding in Oakland, the cross-country trip will make nine scheduled stops in cities and small towns (as well as two unannounced stops) and includes visual artists of all disciplines (Peter Coffin, Thomas Demand, and Ed Ruscha, to name a few); musicians as varied as Beck, Patti Smith, and Albuquerque-based group The Handsome Family; and one-stop-only events — some of the culinary variety, like an Alice Waters-driven cookout in Oakland and an enormous cactus omelet cooked by Ruscha in Winslow, Arizona. A short performance by Aitken will open and close each happening.
Station to Station’s website (www.stationtostation.com) will be updated with video along the way, and new content — such as a prerecorded interview with James Turrell — will be added daily. The digital art will be shown on a triptych of screens at the stops and will also be available online. A physical focus at each stop are the ever-changing “art yurts” designed by artists Kenneth Anger, Urs Fischer, Liz Glynn, Carsten Höller, and Ernesto Neto, and musical performances that vary from city to city. At Santa Fe’s sold-out show, Cat Power, The Handsome Family, Nite Jewel, and THEESatisfaction are slated to perform. Ticket holders are not allowed on the train itself, which serves as a mobile studio and broadcasting station between stops. And while the musical portion of the show is sold out, the public will be able to tour the yurts.
“I wanted to see something exist where it wasn’t anchored to one place, but was constantly changing,” Aitken told Pasatiempo. “I wanted to allow for friction between different forms of art and culture. … I think there’s a tremendous amount of spontaneity. We’ve created an architectural framework, but I’m fascinated by the idea of art as a living system.” Spontaneity, it turns out, requires a great deal of advance planning. Station to Station was produced by Molly Logan, president of FredThinks, an event production company. Last-minute changes and navigating red tape are the norm: originally, Station to Station was to stop in Lamy, but because of various regulations and space constraints, it was relocated to the Railyard. The project’s organizational demands are enormous; new performers were added while others dropped out.
“I met Doug about three and a half years ago,” Logan said. “We started talking, and he pulled out a napkin and drew a train going across the country and said, Do you want to do this? I said yes without really knowing what I was saying yes to.”
Logan spent about six months in Washington, D.C., working out an agreement with Amtrak for using its rail system during the tour. “At that point, we had no funding and couldn’t pay anybody. I spent a year and a half just figuring out if we could do it.” While the project is sponsored by Levi Strauss & Co., all of the artists and musicians agreed to participate for free. After the funding was secured, Logan devoted most of her time to marketing strategies. “It’s important to us to put art and culture into digital distribution channels. People shouldn’t have to opt in to participate in art; it should be something you bump into.”
Station to Station enjoys broad institutional support. At each stop, the project works with partner organizations, like MoMA PS1 in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and SITE Santa Fe here. Douglas Fogle, an independent curator who was previously the chief curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, helped Aitken select and approach artists to participate in Station to Station. Fogle is also a consultant for SITElines, SITE Santa Fe’s new biennial series, planned for 2014.
It was Fogle who approached Glynn, whose 17-foot-diameter yurt will change from location to location. Much of Glynn’s work blends structures and performance. “I was excited about the idea of going on tour with a performance, because I’d never really had the right venue,” she said. “I’ll be traveling on the train all the way across the country, and at each site, my yurt will change and accumulate.”
Glynn’s yurt is based on models of the universe drawn from theoretical physics. She will conduct interviews with scientists who study space from the train, which will then be played back in her yurt, the inside of which is a gray-felt maze whose path changes at each stop. “The idea of reaching people who aren’t the standard higher art audience is interesting. Kids who take the time to go to music shows might be more open to the content … And while the physical size of the yurt forces a type of intimacy, there are so many people involved. That chaos appeals to me.”
Musicians were often approached by other musicians, or got involved through word-of-mouth. “We’re friends with Jeff Tweedy, who recommended us for the New Mexico stop,” said Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family. “Usually, we wouldn’t do something like this, but it seemed really interesting. It all seems like it’s pretty loose — I do know we’re playing for half an hour. Maybe it’s good to go into it with a sense of adventure and mystery.”
Station to Station concludes on Sept. 28 in Oakland, just three weeks after it embarked. The train, which is made up of borrowed cars (one from 1912, another a 1940s observation car) will be disassembled. The yurts disappear, the omelet is eaten, and everybody goes home. But Aitken sees the end of the physical tour as the beginning of something else, and posits that digital tools allow us to remotely retrieve happenings after the fact. While it is a less immediate experience, participating in a happening online does democratize the form. “By its nature, the project is a constellation of ideas,” he said. “At the end, there will be hundreds of short films that anyone can pull up at any time and watch. … I’m interested in the sense of displacement that comes from constant change and flux. Because Station to Station is nomadic, you can access it, whether or not you were there in September.” ◀
▼ Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening
▼ 6-10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18 (7 p.m. procession of participants wearing African headdresses, organized by artist Meshac Gaba)
▼ Santa Fe Railyard, northwest corner of Guadalupe Street and Paseo de Peralta
▼ Tickets ($25) for performances in the Farmers Market Pavilion sold out, installation and other events no charge; see www.stationtostation.com/location/santa-fe