You might have seen the article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record this week, “People channel ‘inner choo-choo’ for video art installation,” documenting how 19 different people— from a 75-year-old jazz crooner to an eight-year-old boy — impersonated a train as part of a video art installation called “Every day I am a train.” And yes, this was all put together by our students. Read on for Dr. Marcel O’Gorman‘s discussion of how the project came into being, and what it does.–JLH
JLH: How did this all happen?
MO’G: The project is a collaborative effort that I developed with students in the Critical Media Lab. These students are English majors in the Experimental Digital Media (XDM) M.A. program and PhD students working in the area of technology and culture. I should add that concept for the project was inspired by a recent PhD graduate, Stephen Fernandez. He came to one of our weekly meetings and showed a video called “John Duffy’s Brother,” based on a short story by Flann O’Brien. The story is about a man who seems to have a nervous breakdown and spends his morning commute acting like a train. This made us think about trying to commute in KW these days.
JLH: What does a video installation about people and trains have to do with the Critical Media Lab?
MO’G: The CML supports the creation of media projects that investigate impacts of technology on the human condition. Trains are an important part of our technological heritage, and more importantly, of our technological imagination. Before the phonograph, radio, and television were showcased as fantasy technologies at the Canadian National Exhibition, electric trains were in the spotlight. That was in 1883, and those trains meant progress. Our incoming LRT is part of that technological trajectory, tapping into a cultural mania for innovation. This is obvious in the name of our LRT system: the Ion. This train is more than just a transportation service, it’s a symbol of technoscientific progress. The message is that there’s a fine line between modern particle physics and light rail commuting. Any city that wants to be viewed as technologically progressive is jumping onboard. Hamilton and Brampton have both proudly announced plans for LRT systems.
JLH: What makes this project so relevant?
MO’G: “Every Day I Am a Train” takes a more lighthearted look at light rail. It shows that our dreams of progress are rooted in childhood fantasy, play, risk-taking, and even irrational behaviour. At the same time, the project acknowledges that we pay a price for progress. Construction surrounding the installation makes the work difficult to view. The project allows people a chance to let off some steam, so to speak, in face of the traffic chaos caused by our LRT madness.