Locomotive Being

Though I haven’t been posting on this blog, I promise I have been doing work this year. Here is a fun project from my curatorial studies course in the fall, where we created a mock-exhibition proposal. It’s similar to something I posted on the blog ages and ages ago when I first created it, so it’s fun to look back and compare the two!

I’m only going to pull a short section for the blog purposes, but you can find the longer version (with images) here.

Winter. Because that is the best time of year to photograph places.
Toronto Railway Museum in winter. Because that is the best time of year to photograph places.

Excerpts: Locomotive Being

This project investigates the experience of spectatorial body when it is situated in the moment of transportation. It is simultaneously envisaged as the literal act of locomotion in railway travel through the use of Toronto’s Railway Museum as an exhibition venue, and more abstractly through artworks which engage a series of thematic interests around movement, duration, spatial situation, zones of liminality and multiplicity. By creating unexpected intersections between the historicity of the railway museum space and the conceptual framework of the artworks, this project aims to stimulate attention towards the spaces of exhibition, the often unnoticed architectures of public transportation, and the role of the spectatorial body within those places. Inspired by Michel De Certeau’s assertion that the etymology of “metaphor” is rooted in the Greek term for vehicles of mass transportation, or metaphorai (115), this exhibition connects the emotional and contemplative transportation that is created by the artistic metaphor, and the literal movement of the human body by the vehicle of the train

The project is inspired by the Toronto Railway Museum and responds to it through an exhibition situation that draws on the writings of Michel De Certeau. Following the example of this illustrious writer, the exhibition seeks to merge art and life, space and time, criticality and embodiment to shape an exploration of the potential impacts of powerful artistic and conceptual experiences. Although De Certeau does not hold an interest in the operation of visual arts space, he often draws comparisons between the mental activity of storytelling and movement through space. In particular, Part III: Spatial Practices of The Practices of Everyday Life, focuses on key issues around the human experience of moving around the city through pedestrian acts that “write” the city like a text (93). Through the multiple paths of possibility that overlap and intersect in the urban space, the city builds up traces of habitation that become like speech acts. Therefore, the city and the pedestrian both create singular texts that shape one another and become part of a larger whole. Similarly, the space that surrounds art objects necessarily enables spectators to bring their own experiences into a relationship with an artwork. The exhibition space provides a container for a relational exchange between the spectator and the artwork, where the artwork relays meaning that communicates new ideas to the viewer, and where the art viewer layers their own interpretation over that meaning. That interpretation is grounded in their translation of what the artwork has conveyed, but it is also shaped by their life experiences, biases and insights.
The object of the train may provide an analogue image of how this space operates. Continuing from his discussion of walking, De Certeau includes a chapter dedicated to “Railway Navigation and Incarceration”, where he breaks down the manner in which the train controls and encapsulates bodies while situating them into a world of motion, dis-placement and distanciation. For De Certeau, the vehicle of the train represents a “bubble” of order and “classifying power”, and it is only the structure, not its contents, which is able to detach itself in order to cross space. Within the train, there is a specific order that structures the bodies and objects that reside inside, and it is this order which makes it possible for the train (and a text, he writes) to transport from one place to another. The locomotive is associated here with an artistic text, or the metaphor that De Certeau describes in the following chapter, and used to describe a system that controls and transforms the traveller’s experience of space and time.

The space in-between the vehicular movement and spectatorial immobility is stable except for an inversion created by the railway car windows. These gaps in the container create transparencies that begin to blur the lines between the interior and exterior, and creates an awareness of the simultaneous existence of both. This attention to both the vehicle and experience of being transported echoes gallery spectatorship, where viewers oscillate between their sensory perception of an artwork, and their critical contemplation of the historical and conceptual nature of the work. It is within this zone of embodied affect and distanced criticality that artwork operates, as it activates the body and mind of the spectator as a unified whole. These structural gaps also allow for alternative views to slip in and co-exist with the regulated order of the vehicle, creating doubled spaces of interior/exterior, public/private, stillness/motion and nearness/distance. In many ways these doubled portals are reminiscent of media art screens, that create their own portals between the spectatorial reality and that of the imaginative world that resides in the screen. Since these screens operate both as portals and contain movement and time-based media images, they provide the perfect medium for exploring issues that arise from the theme of transportation. To that end, many of the works within this program are media based, and visually enact a kind of transporting. These media works operate with immobile sculptures, painting and photography to create tensions between stillness and movement—windows where one would stand and view, and portals that one moves through.

For DeCerteau, it is the container of the train that enables transportation. The organizational system structures the movement of both the train, and the story, from one place to the other (111) and “from which all the action proceeds” (113). Without the structure which moves it forward, the disparate elements are simply separate entities with no relation to one another. DeCerteau continues on to note that although the train may divide its contents (and passengers), it also connects them, “producing changes in the relationships between immobile elements” (113). There is something in this description which resonates strongly with curator Maria Lind’s notion of the curatorial as a network, or catalyst, for complex relations between spectators, critics, curators and objects. If one considers that in the metaphor of the train might be productively correlated to exhibitions—as containers for relational experiences between art and spectators—then the holistic structure of the container makes possible the imaginative work of forging connections that occurs within it. Although the metaphor of the train might make it tempting to assume that all of these connections have to occur linearly, it is perhaps more productive to consider the connections within Lind’s conception of nodes, where small subsets group together but are tangentially connected to other nodes. This idea opens up a kind of multiplicitous experience where there are many possibilities of meaning or entry points into the discourse around the work. This kind of approach may open the exhibition up to enable a large range of audiences, who may or may not be familiar with academic, art historical or curatorial dialogues, to find their own entry point into the discussions, and enables the disparate art objects to connect in many unique ways.

If you’ve skimmed past all that text in the hopes of pictures, you’re rewarded! I also created this epic walkthrough of the space with SketchUp. This way you can practically see the exhibition in real life! Who even needs to cobble together a $100,000 for show anyway! Thanks to Luke Black for putting his video-gaming skills to good use and only walking us through a wall once.

Here is also a channel that includes the walk-through and several clips of the works included in the exhibit:


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