Station to Station: A nomadic 'art happening' for the tech age

A traveling group of artists stops over in Santa Fe, N.M., for a festival blending art, yurts, music, and technology.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read
Station to Station in Santa Fe
Station to Station took place at the Sante Fe Rail Yard. Amanda Kooser/CNET

SANTA FE, N.M.--My first in-the-wild sighting of Google Glass took place on September 18 in Santa Fe at Station to Station, a nomadic public-art project traveling from New York City to Oakland, Calif., by train. The trip began on September 6 and is organized by artist Doug Aitken and sponsored by Levi's.

My mother recently mused on the popularity of "art happenings" in the 1970s where dancers, musicians, and visual artists would gather to perform, share, and celebrate. She reminisces about her modern-dance troupe invading a college orchestra performance. That's pretty much what Station to Station is, but with a lot more complexity and all of the trappings of modern culture.

The Santa Fe event consisted of a yurt city with themed yurts corresponding to different artists. The other main component was an indoor musical event headlined by Cat Power.

I spent some time sitting on a red star-shaped seat watching experimental Kenneth Anger movies playing on three large Samsung flat screens. It was a curious juxtaposition to watch a vintage art movie full of Egyptian themes in such a setting, with the screens reflecting off each other.

Station to Station: Colored smoke, stretching stars, and Google Glass (pictures)

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Artist Liz Glynn hosted visitors to her yurt, a pitch-black experience requiring head lamps to see the chalk messages written on the walls. Glynn's creation was all about the expanding universe. Inside, she gives a personal commentary covering the Hubble telescope and how the stars are stretching away from us.

Glynn asks me to contemplate my place in the universe. I comment on the coziness of the dark yurt and she says, "I hear it's good to curl up and sleep." Perhaps I'll discover my place in the universe after a good nap some day.

There is something missing from all this. The biggest disappointment echoed by attendees was that the LED-equipped train used to transport the Station to Station artists was not visible during the event due to logistical issues. As a fan of both LEDs and trains, I'm a little bummed.

No one will confuse Station to Station with a real '70s-style art happening. There are armed security guards lurking in every corner. There's a Levi's yurt promoting the clothing company's sponsorship. The heavily staffed command center for the concert looks more like a NASA mission control station than a guy with a soundboard. I've never seen so many flat-panel displays at a show.

There are some unexpected moments in all this. Someone parks a couple of electric bikes kitted out with Aaxa pico projectors near the yurts. They project mesmerizing imagery onto the group and onto an umbrella above.

I tried to catch up to the Google-Glass-wearing photographer I spotted earlier, but I lose him in the crowd. I've enjoyed myself at Station to Station. I stepped into every yurt and got lost in the mesmerizing train videos playing behind the musicians. There's still something elusive about this whole event, though. I can't quite catch onto the heart of it, probably because it doesn't want to be caught.

You still have time to join the happening with Station to Station. It has several stops scheduled before ending its run in Oakland, Calif., on September 28. If you happen to have Google Glass, you'll fit right in.