This film comes with a warning about flashing lights for those of epileptic tendency, and so it should, because this is artist Doug Aitkin’s take on the 70’s ‘happening’.
He organised a train to cross the United States from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts, with a wide range of artists of various media on board, holding events along the way. It features big names like Mavis Staples, Beck, Jackson Brown, Thurston More Eleanor Friedberger and Dan Deacon who I think I want to see a lot more of, as he seems a lot of fun, claiming the audience should be part of the show. Indeed.
We see Brown reciting, yurts being erected, with one of them turned into a sort of disco love nest cum bouncy castle. There are fireworks, strobes, some amazing architectural pieces, the music ranging from marching bands to dance, with some amazing performances and collaborations.
It is made up of 62 1 minute pieces, which can feel exhausting at time, but the only way to convey the sheer range of the project. We see a lot of smiling faces, often exhausted, and of all ages and types. There were a lot of scenes of the brightly lit train rushing through the darkness, which suggests it all happened at night, but the lights were amazing. I also loved seeing a busker playing in the dark whilst the train rushed by.
There are comments like, America is based on movement. If you don’t like where you are you can always hop a train. and the notion that the road is the only place where different people can still meet. Hmmm. America is a very big place. I suspect there will always be marginal or forgotten places. But that’s not the point.
The point is not to analyse this incredible collection of artists, but to celebrate the immense range and depth of their work, the strange collaborations that seem unlikely, but do work. I love hearing about their inspirations, what they think art is, and in some cases, how the different forms influence and interact with each other. We seem to be drifting from the rigid forms of art to a far more fluid, collaborative world.
I have a theory that happenings are on the way back. Entertainment used to be passive when people were largely doing hard physical work. Many of us have largely sedentary lives, often rather tedious so there is a huge demand for escape, for immersive theatre, for promenade concerts, for happenings. It’s also a way to fill the gaps left by our abandoning religion. But I read an interview with Anthony Gormley on how people treat his sculptures. When he first put up The Angel of the North, I recall thinking what a waste it was, but he says people have built up rituals around it. They fall in love there, they scatter ashes; it has become a place of new invented rituals. Backward to the future!