Trainscape: Installation Art for Model Railroads
Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery
Sep 1, 2007 – Jan 13, 2008 (opening reception, Thursday, Sep 6)
This fall, DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park will transform the 3500 square-foot Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery with Trainscape: Installation Art for Model Railroads. For this show, twelve New England artists/artist teams have been invited to create new works of installation art—miniature worlds traversed and connected by a fully operational O-scale model railroad! The fourteen emerging and established New England artists who rose to this challenge have produced a spectacular array of fully-imagined worlds that involve a wide range of issues, including history, poetry, philosophy, geography, abstraction, figuration, scale, architecture, and humor. Trainscape is a celebration of unbridled creativity, not an attempt to represent reality at a miniature scale as in traditional model railroading.
Trainscape addresses a vital issue in the art of the early twenty-first century. Currently, many artists are actively engaged in the creation of imaginary worlds, not only with sculpture and installations, but also with painting, drawing, and photography. This impulse reflects philosophical ruminations about alternate realities, escape from the current world situation, and the use of place as an emotionally expressive device. A major theme within this exploration of parallel universes is a wide expansion of the idea of landscape sculpture (as opposed to the far more familiar “landscape painting”). Trainscape presents many alternative worlds, united only by the physical—and often conceptual—presence of the trains that travel throughout the exhibition.
The use of a miniature railroad enables DeCordova Museum to effectively present twelve separate works of contemporary installation art in a limited space, and to allow these works to be considered both separately and in juxtaposition. The miniature is also the perceptual cousin to the colossal. Tiny objects and images demand close examination, so that they fill one’s optical field in much the same way as very large visual phenomena. This close looking at small things allows for deep mental immersion as well. Trainscape thus provides enveloping journeys to cities, mountains, deserts, technological landscapes, and places of pure imagination.
The participating artists/artist teams were selected from proposals submitted by seventy-five invited competitors, and include Ahmed Abdalla, Sandor Bodo, Doug Bosch, Chris Frost, George Greenamyer, Ralph Helmick, Robin Mandel and Gideon Webster, Mike Newby, Stuart Schechter, Ellen Wetmore and Jeff “Jeffu” Warmouth, Edythe Wright, and Joy Wulke.
Trainscape is organized by Curator Nick Capasso, Koch Curatorial Fellows Kate Dempsey and Lisa Sutcliffe, and Preparator Brad Gonyer. This exhibition has been funded by the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation. For Trainscape, the following twelve artists/artist teams will be featured:
Ahmed Abdalla—Abdalla’s work extends his aesthetic approach to art in three dimensions. Objects replace text, but the coloration and references to a Middle Eastern landscape proceed directly from his paintings. In his installation Witness: A story without a narrator#7, Abdalla draws inspiration from the Denshwai Incident. In 1906, in the village of Denshwai, British officers went to shoot domestic pigeons on private land. This led to a violent scuffle, after which several Egyptian farmers were unjustly executed by the occupation government. Abdalla seeks not to illustrate this historical event, but to tap its emotional resonances to create a poetic place of myth and remembrance. Here, the train literally disappears into the past, yet triggers a paradoxical illumination.
Sandor Bodo—Known for working in a variety of media, Bodo’s art is unified through threads of politics, a surreal layering of materials and images, a wry sense of humor, and an abiding interest in narrative and theatricality present in his work. Bodo’s Trainscape installation deals with the nature of spiritual enlightenment, expressed symbolically. In Buddha Express, multiple Buddhas, suffused with a light that radiates from within, rise from a desert of ignorance. The blissful meditation of the most fully Enlightened One is undisturbed, even by the train that roars straight through his head.
Doug Bosch—Bosch’s sculptures are at once familiar and foreign. Often made from natural materials such as pollen, the works look as if they could be newly discovered species. The artist studies his materials in their native habitats to learn their inherent properties, tendencies, and forms. In Tickled Pink, Bosch’s forms come alive with the motion of the model train. As the train moves forward it reveals the symbiotic relationship between the train and landscape, for without the train the landscape lies completely static and without the landscape the train disappears.
Chris Frost—Frost’s work explores the common object through his creative play with material, scale, juxtaposition, and context. Encountering the ordinary (be it a hat, fish, or castle) through a new perspective can create unexpected, humorous, and often dynamic interpretations. Interested in the historical dimensions of a site, Frost often incorporates themes of time, memory, and place into his site specific works. For Trainscape, Frost’s installation Municipile, features familiar local buildings which tumble about, free of their usual static state. This odd mixture of structures comments on the diversity that makes up a city or region.
George Greenamyer—Inspired by the mechanics and aesthetics of steam locomotives, Greenamyer has created public art works for several train stations all over the country. Working primarily in forged, painted steel, he creates historically site-specific narratives in an accessible, brightly-colored, folk art style. In Trainscape, Greenamyer’s work Cornelius Vanderbilt, Chief Rogue of the Railroad Robber Barons features the famous entrepreneur and ruthless businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), who towers over the industry he helped create and expand.
Ralph Helmick—Helmick aims for stillness and contemplation in his installation Fourteenth Way. In his work, which references Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Helmick unites the worlds of poetry and sculpture. He artfully employs an economical use of letters to create the landscape. The deliberate sparse use of letters connects his interest in visual perception with the importance of lightness of language in modernist poetry. Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter (whose installation, Plush, also appears in Trainscape) have been collaborating on public art projects since 1994. The artists’ shared interest in the mechanics of visual perception unites their large body of work.
Robin Mandel and Gideon Webster—Finding that model trains distance the viewer from the power, sound, and vibrations of a real train, the artist team of Mandel and Webster attempt to restore some of these sensations in Inflatable Respiring Cloudscape. An artist and designer, Gideon Webster works in many media from traditional printmaking to interactive media installations. Sculptor Robin Mandel primarily works with common materials such as two by fours, ironing boards, and cardboard boxes. The two met as students at the Rhode Island School of Design; this is their first collaboration.
Mike Newby—Newby creates formally straightforward and elegantly crafted sculpture in both representational and abstract modes. The titles of his artworks often involve imaginative wordplay, which activates visual puns and introduces narrative and humorous content to his objects. His installation Trains of Thought offers a host of verbal and visual puns based on railroads and philosophy. In Newby’s world, one encounters Socrates, Plato, Freud, Jung, assorted Existentialists, and front porch philosophers—among others—cracking wise amidst the mountains, trees, and trains.
Stuart Schechter—In his installation for Trainscape, Schechter explores the variety of emotions that trains can evoke. In Plush, the pleasant, innocence of youth appears in the stuffed animals and the larger form of the baby, while the penned-in toys and their menacing actions suggest the darker side of trains. Schechter is a rocket scientist by training and an artist by vocation. He and fellow artist Ralph Helmick have been working as a team since 1994 and employ all of their talents as well as those of their studio assistants to create innovative works, switching back and forth between cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic techniques.
Ellen Wetmore and Jeff “Jeffu” Warmouth—Inspired by the recent birth of their son, Wetmore and Warmouth’s installation Land O’ Lactation proceeds directly from the biological experience of new motherhood, and presents a world held hostage by the primal needs of infants. This conflation of the landscape and the body also alludes to the many cultural traditions surrounding the idea of nature as sustainer, like Mother Earth (Gaia), or the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey. Wetmore and Warmouth are both multi-media artists who share a love of each other, their son, food, humor, and a surreal sense of surprise.
Edythe F. Wright—For her installation Sharp®town, Wright enlarged the components of a tiny circuit-board enmeshed in the guts of a Sharp® television by 3800%. This simple, though substantial, increase in scale enables several marvelous transformations: an object becomes a place, digital components become architecture, and the miniscule becomes colossal. In Sharp®town, the puzzle of sizes leads to uncertainty about the viewer’s physical and conceptual relationships with this beautiful and mysterious city.
Joy Wulke—In her installation Here, There, and Everywhere, Wulke uses clear, frosted, and dichroic glass, mirrors, lights, and rock candy (a crystalline structure) to create a magical place where reflection and refraction shatter conventional notions of time, space, and place. The motion of the train along with its multiple images in the surrounding glass surfaces further activates the overall perceptual complexity—it seems at once here, there, and everywhere.