Jules et Eric.
Photo via Flickr, New Media Days
Monday, June 24, 2013
Tyler Green asked me a question on twitter last Friday. It was a good question. It made me want to write more than 140 characters. Tommy Aldridge is going to have to hit pause on that drum solo.
After I declared my love for Doug Aitken's Station To Station website, Tyler replied with the tweet, "So far the whole thing seems very corporate scenester. What am I not getting?"
Hmmm. I don't know. There are so many things to not get about Doug Aitken, and they are a constantly shifting. For me, those things usually stay at bay and it all comes together for me in almost all of Aitken's work. I often do get it, even when I can't explain why. (Don't sweat the small stuff, Brent!)
Ironically, the one place where it's never come together for me is Aitken's "Happenings." Besides not liking the dodgy-ass, cliché name, every one I've gone to has been a shitshow. Disorganized. Crap sound. Annoying audience. Intellectually cluster-fucked events are not fun or interesting. They're just messes that seem to be enjoyed mostly by the people on stage or on the walls or in their resultant CV augmentations. However, props to Aitken for even trying.
So, why do I have any hope for Station To Station, which is essentially a rolling "happening" (Sorry, that shit ain't escaping the quotation marks.)? Lots of reasons. These are the reasons, in this case, that I'm getting it. At least so far. All I've seen is the website. We'll see if the train journey is the expressway through my skull that i'm hoping for.
To return to Tyler's use of the phrase, "corporate scenester" . . . Yes and yes.
Oddly enough, I hadn't seen the LEVI'S logo in my many visits to the site until I did a search and landed on the home page where it's a prominent fixture. It IS on all subsequent pages, but it was so small I never noticed it on my 15" screen. Generally, I can't get too excited about corporate sponsorship unless it becomes a detriment to the art, in which case the art, the artist, and the sponsor should be ridiculed mercilessly.
I don't see that happening here with Station To Station. In fact, to a certain extent, if anything, Aitken has stolen from the LEVI'S aesthetic throughout his entire career. He owes THEM. Either way, my take on corporate sponsorship is one of bemused detachment, akin to Sebastian Bach's defense of embracing the reality TV gravy train. Sebastian Bach could give a flying fuck about reality TV, but he'll take their money. Paraphrasing now: "Thank you for you money. I am going to take it now and put it all into METAL." [Metal heads, insert long boriing argument here as to whether or not Sebastian Bach is Metal.] Everybody knows what an institution is buying when they give money to an artist or an institution (Illusion of edge!), and everybody knows what an artist is getting when they take money from a corporate entity (Illusion of lunch!). [Art heads, insert long boring conversation about corporations and courtiers here.]
An aside: I don't know if I want an art world where I can't laugh at an Altria executive getting to say "a couple words" in the ghetto of a Whitney press opening.
Scenesterism. [This is the paragraph in which I will both agree and disagree with myself.] I don't mind Aitken's brand of scenesterism. Or at least, in respects to it prompting decent art actions, I maintain a weird hope for it. It comes out of the fact that he's very well connected with a number of scenes, both well-moneyed and not, interesting and not. I'd call it boosterism and it seems to come from a place of love and encouragement. It's a warm blanket of sheen. In the case of the interviews on the website, it reminds me of old issues of Interview magazine, which were more than a little scenestery. And I like the same repeated or similar questions leading to everything from the existential to the mundane when it comes to the answers. To quote Charles Bukowski, "i have shit stains in my underwear too." So, scene on, Doug Aitken. Scene on. (This viewpoint self-intersects with my fears that it WILL be too scene-y, but something about Aitken makes me live in hope. [Which is not a bad place to start.])
Other things that give me hope for Station To Station to be as good on a whole as it is as a website:
1. I'm a sucker for anything based on a Bowie song. Especially this Bowie song. And quite specifically, that intro. It should not be forgotten that he did that without the help of Eno. You could stop that song after the intro and you'd be guaranteed forward motion for a couple hours.
2. Slanted, this. But, well: Hunger. The typeface and design aesthetic used for the quotes throughout the website is either borrowed from or influenced by Blackest Ever Black has been doing for the last couple years. Or, maybe it's been plucked from the air of the zeitgeist, but a it's a little behind the breeze. And that means that Aitken has some catching up to do. He's usually coming in on top of the beat. This time, he's a little behind. That's a spot that can be just as fertile though when it comes to pushing a song forward.
3. Man Bartlett is involved. I don't know the details, but even if it's at the most technician-y level, Man Bartlett makes everything better.
4. Even with my past perceived disasters of earlier "happenings", I maintain a certain faith in all things wide-ranging. From the interests of the website to the train's path, this project covers that.
5. I'm a sucker for trains. I often dream of them when I'm alone.
Roll on, Doug Aitken. Roll on. Take that train, baby.