Station to Station - A Project by Doug Aitken, the Barbican Centre

A complaint often levied at the Barbican is just how sprawling it is, how much of a maze for the uninitiated. It’s true, I don’t know how many times I’ve been there but it can always offer up some other quirk or confusion, a new space or find. Yesterday afternoon amid the public overspill of the tube strike I discovered a lot more than I bargained for, Doug Aitken’s curation of Station to Station could not be more at home in this centre. 

The title takes its name from an AmTrak train journey Aitken made across America a couple of years ago. He took on various guests and projects and over the crossing of a continent filmed dozens of artists and creatives making a contribution to the trip. An accompanying film I am yet to see which is soon to end at the Barbican cinemas but readily available on Amazon Prime or iTunes, is essentially a record of this travelling circus and from what I understand merely gives a minute or so of its running time to each piece.

In the gallery you can afford a far deeper exploration into each project and collaboration. In fact a better way of enjoying Station to Station would be to work within it, or pop in every lunch time and see what else is going on. The auditoriums are putting out concerts each night, some more mainstream than others, none exactly straight down the line. The Boredoms with eighty drum players perhaps? Beck with God knows what? Suicide? 

The gallery itself has morphed into a creative hub with Aitken mixing his own films and those of others in the centre, a screen printing studio putting out artwork for the Vinyl Factory who are pressing 12” records from recordings made in another makeshift studio. I saw dancers from Siobhan Davis Dance Co resting after a session of choreography, Mike Figgis was there with his hair talking to people about digital film in another area marked off for the purpose. There are walls of pinned questions written by members of the public for artists to select and then paint the answer - or maybe just paint the question. 

A wood block printing workshop exists above the normal entrance on a temporary floor, scaffolding supports altering the actual framework of the gallery even more than your own memories of the Barbican failing to materialise. I exited the space through a black and white striped corridor only to find myself outside looked down upon by residents apartments though equally it was a tranquil sun trap of Station to Station branded deckchairs and two yurts offering very different contents. One was a boudoir, a large bed surrounded by mirrors quite unfitting for the nomadic nature of the tent, the other showing occult films of Kenneth Anger - complete with a red pentagram of seating stools. 

Away from the main gallery, the Curve has a piece taking its queue from the hugely popular Rain Room. Similarly the participant is walked into the gallery in the dark and chaperoned carefully before stopping at an invisible line. Then the line actually appears across the floor and the walls as a laser beams down from above and maps the space and you in it. The light slowly curves around the room with you following, measurements taken the whole time - by midway through the gallery you stop walking on gravel and come to a projected film of the space you have just been in but with scrolling statements and your shadows flickering within the parameters of the Curve mapped in 3D. 

Aaron Koblin and Ben Tricklebank’s Light Echoes has been installed in other spaces and a final screen shows some of the other sites - one more immediately successful seems to be on a railway itself, inspired by the original Station to Station by Aikten. This is not without its charm but there is a reason people are not forming the queues Rain Room caused. 

In the spiel the whole enterprise is referred to as a thirty day happening and to engage with all that is on, it would take far far longer than that. Like a food fest though, you cannot eat it all - this overview was what I saw or experienced one evening; it will be different today and different tomorrow. What it will not be is static and if you are so inclined there are plenty of distractions here to explore.

Station to Station until July 26th

Light Echoes until September 6th