This Glowing Train Is Bringing Art, Music, and Yurts to Middle America

The best music and art festival of 2013 isn’t happening in a park or on a boat. It’s taking place on a moving train. Profiled in Wired’s forthcoming Design Issue, artist Doug Aitken is packing a slew of artists and bands onto a train, crossing from New York to San Francisco over the course of ten days in September. “For a short time,” Aitken writes in a statement, “the most interesting place in the country will be a moving target.”

Station to Station, as Aitken calls the piece, will involve dozens of artists and musicians. At each stop, Aitken will orchestrate site-specific happening that includes local artists and musicians, as well as the group he’s invited aboard the nine-car train. On the side of each car, gigantic LED screens will show Aitken’s video work. Pitchfork has the whole list of performers, but highlights include Carsten Höller (of New Museum slide fame), Google Creative Labs’ Aaron Koblin, experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and Ernesto Neto (who is apparently supplying a yurt). On the music side of things, Dan Deacon, Ariel Pink, Twin Shadow, and a slew of other bands are set to play.

It sounds like the perfect recipe for an amazing, extended art happening—that, or a really good murder mystery. But according to Wired’s beautifully-laid-out story on the project, it’s also about the increasingly intense interplay between digital and physical art—and the rising tension between net art and the conventional art market. Clive Thompson explains:

The tactical universe of high art—with its money, funding, and grants—is still very much gallery-based. Many curators aren’t sure how seriously to take the new digital artists, much less how to display what they do. They’re not even sure what to call the work. After all, much of modern digital art is essentially invisible. It’s code. It’s a process. Just looking at it isn’t enough. You’re supposed to experience it...

Likewise, Aitken's Station to Station is more of an experience than a buyable commodity. "In the old world, you traveled to see the art," adds Thompson. "Now it’ll travel to see you—either pulling into your town or being beamed to a computer you pull out of your pocket."

Aitken's piece hearkens back to an era when train tours were the modus operandi for anyone looking to reach the American public (Abe Lincoln famously traversed the same pathways to win the presidency, for example). At the same time, he's cross-pollinating that tradition with entirely new types of communication and technology. So how will art historians and dealers preserve (and profit from) Station to Station? That remains to be seen—but hey, there’s always Instagram. [Wired]