Doug Aitken talks about STATION TO STATION


A high speed roadtrip through modern creativity, STATION TO STATION is a revolutionary feature comprised of 62 one-minute films highlighting an exciting and eclectic mix of artists, musicians, writers, places, and perspectives.

In the summer of 2013, a train designed as a kinetic light sculpture by artist Doug Aitken traveled from New York City to San Francisco over 24 days. Rolling into ten stations on the route, the train set in motion a series of happenings, each unique to its location and mix of creative participants.

The film includes profiles, intimate moments on the train, conversations, and performances at the happenings: Ed Ruscha describing the discoveries to be made in the great American landscape; Beck performing with a gospel choir in the Mojave Desert; Jackson Browne reflecting on the influence of the railroad on his music, and many more.

Doug Aitken, director of STATION TO STATION is an American artist and filmmaker. Defying definitions of genre, he explores every medium, from film and installations to architectural interventions. Aitken’s work leads us into a world where time, space and memory are fluid concepts. His films often explore the modern condition, and his transformative installations create immersive cinematic experiences. He has collaborated with numerous artists and musicians, and his work has been exhibited in museums around the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Vienna Secession, the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. He participated in the Whitney Biennial and earned the International Prize – Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1999 for the installation “electric earth”. Aitken received the 201

Bijan Tehrani: I’ve been following Jean-Luc Godard for the last few decades to see where this guy is going and he is trying all the time new things, but I think if he has a chance to see your film he would say “That is the film I really was looking to make and I never made it.” How did you come up with this kind of experiment in making this beautiful film?

Doug Aitken: Well, you know, it is in a lot of ways. When we think of cinema, we think of time, and someone talks about a film and they say, “This film is ninety minutes long. This film is a hundred-and-twenty minutes long.” Basically, you are obviously a cinephile, you look at Tarkovsky’s comments, “sculpting in time.” You kind of recognize that, that is what it is. You are basically working with time, so I thought that what if instead of trying to escape time and create a cinema that is about the future or the past, what if I make them notice about the present? STATION TO STATION is completely about the present. I thought that if I work with time and I try to use time as a structure, maybe something different can happen. So then I thought about this idea of if you kick time and you almost democratize the minutes to every sixty seconds that is a different piece, you have an opportunity to tell a different kind of story or a different kind of expression. So I thought of a film almost as a moving kaleidoscope, like this kaleidoscope of encounters and individuals that is moving and changing constantly and constantly being replaced by more, so eventually you have something that is much more of a fast landscape than you do one story.

BT: STATION TO STATION is such a solid film and as far as the structure I think it is based on very old, ancient art making necklaces, and in a necklace, there is a string going through all the stones that makes the necklace. In STATION TO STATION, trains are making that string.
DT: That is a really great analogy. Yeah, I like that. Yeah, yeah, and actually that idea of motion becomes a string, and motion is this continuum, but the landscape is changing and the people are changing and the encounters are changing, and I like what you said very much because a necklace is also like a series of sequences. This one kind of axis is this sequence which is moving through kind of a modern landscape—a modern creative landscape, in a way.

BT: Also, your attention to space is so important. You are looking at the architecture. At the same time, you are looking at the music which are the two most strongly related arts together in a movie, and that is what makes STATION TO STATION so interesting.
DT: I think initially the film was attempting to tell a story more and to be a bit more of a documentary. Then the film evolved, and it evolved and it changed, and it reached a point where the film started making itself. The structure that we talked about exists and that allowed the film to kind of make itself, and at a certain point when I was working on it, it was as if I was looking more to music than I was to cinema in terms of structure, and seeing the film as more of a musical composition, like a sequence of rhythms and patterns.

BT: Watching STATION TO STATION is like going through a beautiful monument. You don’t have to see the whole thing. You could watch just a portion of it and still enjoy.
DT: Yeah, and that idea that you have these pieces, these short pieces. I was really attracted to that because I think sometimes the weight of the cinema, the weight of the long story can sometimes be a burden instead of a freedom, and with this film I was more interested in something where you can watch it and watch it, or you could watch a section of it. It was more kind of molecular in a way.

BT: You said, this project “kind of made itself.” How did it happen? Did you have a written piece about the film before you get started? 
DT: You know, I really didn’t. I filmed the footage, and I was always looking for these moments when I was filming. I was looking for kind of specific moments as opposed to scenes, whether it is the hitchhiker in the parking lot of the Mojave Desert or whether it is Patty Smith kind of writing one song she will only play in St. Paul, Minneapolis, just these kind of isolated moments. I think in a lot of ways, to me, I see things more like a kind of series of fragments. That’s how I view life. I see life as a very wide kaleidoscope, and that speaks to me more, that idea, that structure speaks to me more often than if I were to try to write a novel. What is the story? I think in a lot of ways, I think it was a very organic process because this whole film came out of that. The film kind of came out of a series of short stories of short impressions, and some of these moments are incredibly abstract and other ones are very raw and candid.

BT: I think this is also important from another point of view. It shows the America we never know at least to a lot of people.
DT: Yeah, and that idea that I think that Americans often see this idea that there is the East Coast and the West Coast. There is a New York and a Los Angeles, and what’s in between, I don’t know. That kind of impression that you see. I think with this project I wanted to really kind of look at all the cultures and subcultures which you find, and try to open up that dialog, and in the film there is a lot of artists and musicians who have very little exposure. They are kind of working in the underground, and I saw this project Station To Station as a way of kind of sharing the light with what they are doing and I am kind of giving them exposure, and at the same time, working with other artists and musicians and filmmakers that are known and really try to present the project as an opportunity for them to do something more radical or more experimental than they normally would.

BT: I was kind of imagining that it would be amazing to show this film in outdoor cinema where people could come and watch it like a concert and dance to it and all that.
DT: I know! I love that, and we did that in Florence, Italy two weeks ago.

BT: Oh, amazing.
DT: Yeah, it is amazing, outdoor cinema. It was just in a plaza in Florence. Seeing that happen, it was such a powerful moment because you saw people just—like outdoor cinema, free cinema, just watching this film and liking it, disliking it, taking away pieces of it. That’s what we want to do. That’s why we do these things. We make these things to give away, and I think that’s the essence of why we made this project specifically as a way to just share and give away ideas.

BT: What do you think about the opportunities in the U.S. for your film?
DT: Well, we are excited about the premiere at the New Art next weekend. Not this weekend, next weekend. Yeah, that will be the first step, and hopefully the film will have a list.

BT: Have you been attending film festivals with Station To Station?
DT: A little bit. Not too much. We premiered in Sundance, and then it’s been kind of living its life in Europe, so the film really kind of comes to the U.S. starting a week from now.

BT: Okay, great. Any future projects that you are working on?
DT: (Laughing). I will have to think about that and get back to you!

Friday, August 21 for a Q&A after the 7:30pm show: Director Doug Aitken, with a musical pre-show performance by No Age at 7:20pm.

Friday, August 21 for an introduction to the 9:50pm show: Director Doug Aitken, with a musical performance by White Mystery at 9:40pm.

Saturday, August 22 for a Q&A after the 7:30pm show: Director Doug Aitken, with a musical pre-show performance by Sun Araw at 7:20pm.

STATION TO STATION book signing at CineFile Video on Saturday, August 22 at 4:30pm.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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