Rail Life

The Khyber’s new exhibition, Making Tracks, brings contemporary video art to VIA Rail travellers.

If you've taken VIA Rail's The Ocean train between Halifax and Montreal, you know the movies played in the lounge car generally come off a list of the worst of last year's blockbuster fare. Watching them onboard, Khyber ICA board member Colleen Wolstenholme had an idea: why not expose train viewers to contemporary video art instead?

Making Tracks began to take shape last summer. A collaboration between the Khyber and VIA, Khyber staff and volunteers put together the videos, while the train provides the exhibition space. The hour-long program of video art will screen onboard the Montreal-Halifax trains this summer, as well as in lounges at VIA's hub stations across Canada. Artist and curator Rachel Collyer took over coordinating the project, spending last summer building a website (khyber.ca/makingtracks) and preparing a call for submissions. The project launches tonight in the train station lobby.

Collyer mentions a desire to "draw on the self-reflexive quiet space you have on the train...We want to get people thinking more about where they're coming from and where they're going."

The videos in Making Tracks come from a variety of locations---around half of the 14 artists are based in Nova Scotia, with the others a mix of Canadian and international artists. Collyer says the committee was surprised by the range of places they received submissions from, and describes the program as a "mix of animations, shorts and documents....Some are really narrative-type pieces that will appeal to families, some very conceptual work....We had to appeal to a wide range," she says.

Not all the videos feature trains specifically, others more the "mythology of travelling." Christie Long Nuell lives across the from the station and shot the train arriving in Halifax. "There's a lot of arrival, departure, interacting with other passengers, locomotion," Collyer says. American artist Karen Ostrom's video "The End" shows a view driving across the Brooklyn Bridge, under the credits for a movie that doesn't exist.

Halifax artist Melanie Colosimo's hand-drawn animation Your Train Has Already Departed is "inspired by the experience of nostalgia and my research on the blurring of realities." In it, two people on a train ride find a strange world emerging as they travel. She calls the project "a great opportunity to not only promote video art from our region but to also instigate more alternative locations for artists to exhibit their work.

"There are so many great, amusing ways to get your work out there and access a large audience, an audience that might not have the opportunity or chance to go to a gallery."

The exhibition faced a couple challenges, including finding out last-minute that they needed to subtitle videos in French, and making the material "family friendly." One video about having sex on a train was cut from the onboard viewing reel, but the version of Making Tracks on the DVD produced by the Khyber to distribute to participants, artist-run centres and others, is a "director's cut" with a handful of videos that won't be seen on the trains.

Collyer and Colosimo hope the exhibition will help to expand their audience. "It may be slow, and expensive, but I look forward to that time for myself," says Colosimo. "It's an opportunity to escape today's rapid-paced society. Everyone has their own romantic idea of taking the train, and I hope the project enhances the passengers' experience on their own journeys."

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