The point of no return

This post is about the good ol'America… and my salute to its railway development of which played a significant part in the country's economic growth since the nineteenth century, that forever changed its vast landscape, introduced new meanings of the leisure life voyage to those that benefited from the "modern" capitalism and perhaps encouraged aspiring bandits? Well, I am not promoting lawlessness here, I mean, the railway development had thus also commenced the film genre of Westerns in which bandits blew up trains that fascinated audience with its suspenseful scenes of train robbery that perhaps helped harbored many childhood fantasies of cowboys and bandits.

At apexart and organized by CUNY Ph.D. candidate (whom previously served as the editor of Artforum) -Brian Sholis, is an exhibition called The Permanent Way.

This exhibition consists of not only photographs by contemporary artists depicting immense plains of nature and trains or left-over train-tracks but also vintage train maps issued by the government, real-photo post-cards dating back to 1909 and 1910 when it was the modern memorabilia à la mode.

Jeff Brouws
Railroad Landscape #21, former Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut right-of-way (abandoned 1938), MP 24, view south, Summer, Anon's Crossing, New York
, 2010
Archival pigment print
37 x 44 inches
Image courtesy apexart.org
Jeff Brouws
Railroad Landscape #56, former Poughkeepsie and Eastern right-of-way as ingress to private hunting presere (abandoned 1938), MP 92, view south, Winter, McIntyre, New Yor
k, 2010
Archival pigment print
37 x 44 inches
Image courtesy apexart.org
 
Upon entering the gallery space, there are these large and crisp prints by Jeff Brouws of the railway landscapes that are breathtakingly mystical. As if inviting you to enter into a fair-tale-like scene of what once upon a time was a prolific site traveled by many of American ancestors. Even though the tracks are no longer in operation today, but here the images represent what has been left off of what once had been the high point of this victorious industrious development that affected the modern American life for better or worse. These images visually convey a long-loss romance of capitalist venture and freedom and mobility .

Justine Kurland
Doyle, CA
, 2007
C-print
40 x 50 inches
courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Image courtesy apexart.org
While Justine Kurland presents the grand view of what is now an utilitarian mode of transportation that ensures trading and bridges far distances of arduous journeys of capital profits and industry developments across the country. In contrast, the mood of her images (there are more images in the exhibition than that I have included in this post) is not so nostalgic but rather bleak. Bleak in the sense that they bring affront the not so glamorous process of transporting cargoes of goods or traveling empty cargoes back and forth as means for possible new constructions and consumptions.


Ah… nostalgia! My favorite and abundantly self-indulging sentiment… these old photos depicting the advent of steam engines and the unforeseen disasters, and thus prevailing the society of spectacle. Here the postcard (below) depicts a mass of onlookers of a derailed train and a collision of an epic scale. Like the mass participants of public spectacle in contemporary culture, many look rather amused with awe at the accident while a few others look concerned and puzzled.  Certainly, the situation appear grim and catastrophic, however it also seems as if an inevitable entertainment for the mass- which is to say, finally something "fun" that would be worthy of working up a public neurosis.  As well as transpiring most interesting debates over dinner tables. Surely, the matter would not have been taken lightly, the topic perhaps ranged within heated arguments about modernization; its advantages versus its negative impact on everyone's lives.

Wreck in Yards, Port Arthur
ca. 1910
Real-photo postcard
4 x 6 inches
Collection of Luc Sante
Image courtesy apexart.org
Lastly, here is a staged photo of a scene of crime, slap-stick style (I must admit). The man in hostage hardly looks surprised while the gunman hardly manifests any villain-like character in his expression nor in his posture, the only thing that poses an imminent death threat is his polished gun.

Murder on the Tracks
1909
Real-photo postcard
4 x 6 inches
Collection of Luc Sante

Image courtesy apexart.org
 This is an exhibition that unveils a significant period of the American history as well as a diverse show of contemporary art combined with historical documentation. Please visit apextart before the end of the exhibition on July 28th.

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