Trans-Siberian Arts Centre
We started the Trans-Siberian Arts Centre (T-SAC) as an idea that didn’t have much more genesis than a “Why not?” being laid on the pub table one night. (Pubs are important.) It developed as an opportunity for emerging artists of any background to get some airplay, for us to learn some skills in directing an arts organization and to add some interest and most importantly, fun, to the slow pace of life that ensues on Trans-Siberian train No.4 from Moscow to Beijing.
With a captive travelling audience aboard the train, T-SAC aimed to bring together a series of 3 exhibition projects for this audience to encounter from the 26th April- 2nd May 2011; an international open call postcard exhibition, a film and video exhibition by UK and Australian artists, and a series of performances by Australian artists that would be shown on the platforms the train stopped at en-route.
Presenting artworks from tangible postcard format to video to performances of mundane or everyday actions on railway platforms, we aimed to take a “something for everyone” approach to the arts centre. A question we have continually asked during this project has been “What is an arts centre?”. We wanted to test the boundaries of presenting a variety of art genres to a culturally diverse audience and see how enthusiastically this audience could respond to our project; engaging with art in an unexpected environment.
The Open Call postcard exhibition of works by 150+ artists made an impressive contribution to the project, covering the T-SAC cabin walls from floor to ceiling. In many ways, this particular exhibition was the easiest to access for audience members, whether they were enthusiastic and shot in to chat to us, shy and passing by to have a sneak peak, or a customs officer checking our passports at a border and being completely distracted by the works plastering the walls. Everyone can relate to a postcard. And the audience for this exhibition was as diverse as the postcards being exhibited.
The New Works: Australian and UK video Artists exhibition found a way to relate back to the passengers pacing up the train corridors and landscapes flashing past the cabin windows. Works such as “5…4…3…2…1” by Aaron Head encapsulated the ridiculous nature of time wasting and waiting for ‘something’ to happen. While Sarah Carne’s work “I Love My Yugo” took audience members into her beat up Yugo 45 (now an endangered species in the UK) to travel all the way from Britain to the Yugo manufacturing HQ, Serbia, to meet fellow Yugos.
All in all it’s fair to say that we were incredibly surprised by the relaxed nature of our Cabin attendants. (These are usually the people that stop you from doing things you’re not supposed to in and around the train. These are also the people that provide you with toilet paper in dire situations. So it’s best to keep them onside.) When it came to running an arts centre onboard the train without prior permission, we half expected that at some point we would be pulled up by an authoritative figure to halt certain parts of the project. In particular, we thought that this moment, if it were to arise, would almost certainly come during the filming of one of the Platform Performance works.
The Platform Performance series brought together a collection of works by Australian emerging artists which each involved simple or everyday actions. These were re-created by britt+jon, following the instructions of each artist at certain platforms and passengers were encouraged to interact and participate.
In true DIY arts centre form, some performances proved more difficult to execute than others within this particular public environment. Jesse Bullivant’s work “Cut Piece” was unable to be performed due to a cardboard box shortage along the train route (we weren’t about to nick the box an old lady was using as a table at one of the platform market stalls). “Cut Piece” is due to be performed this month in China at a venue TBA. Anastasia Klose’s work “Slapping” also brought challenges for both audience and performer. “Slapping” sees britt+jon stand face to face, one performer slaps the other as hard as possible until the other concedes by saying “stop”. The roles reverse, and the performance continues for as long as the two participants are able. After much consideration of the potential for this performance to cause cultural or social insult to a public audience in Russia, Mongolia or China, “Slapping” was performed and filmed within the T-SAC cabin. A test of each participant’s ability to bear physical and mental humiliation, this performance found the limits and relativity between two people.
Back out on the platforms, Danae Valenza’s “Handshake” created action the audience really responded to. From railway workers to cabin attendants and passengers, the simplicity of two people standing on a platform relentlessly shaking hands induced laughter and conversation between strangers watching on. Before long, passengers themselves began to get involved and shake hands next to us during performances.
Continuing on with these simple action performances, britt+jon created a series of separate works including “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and “Work No. 850 (Re-worked)”. The former saw a never-ending game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ played out on a Mongolian platform. With two players and no winner, the game was defunct as a competition and left only absurd signals interacting with each other in a similar nature to Valenza’s “Handshake”. “Work No. 850 (Re-worked)” saw Martin Creed’s “Work No.850” (where Creed employs runners to sprint through the Tate Britain galleries) reinterpreted for a platform environment. At intermittent points, britt+jon sprint across the length of the platform through the meandering public, tin soldier guards and market stalls in an action that is as out of place as a sprinter in a prestigious public gallery.
T-SAC aimed to brake down the seriousness of an "international exhibition" and the promotion of artists by bringing emerging art to an unsuspecting international audience in a down to earth and fun-filled manner.The variety and accessibility of works that were included in the T-SAC project meant that many of our audience members found something to enjoy. Even those for whom art was of no interest what so ever, at the very least came to have a chat. After all, a good chat can sometimes be just as influential as a cracking work of art.
-Britt Salt, 2011
“its better to be honest about the fact that we don’t know exactly what we are doing, but we’re giving ourselves, our ideas and the work of as many artists as possible a chance to get a run and experiment, make some mistakes and hopefully end up knowing more than we did before about the possibilities that art has to integrate into different environments in unexpected ways.” (britt)
“what’s happened? i think we’ve created some questions. i reckon its worked. i reckon its failed. i’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. we didn’t know what we were doing, we still don’t, but f*** its worth a try!” (jon)
Many thanks to all the fantastic artists involved in the T-SAC project, in particular Danae Valenza for being our trusty Australian Curatorial Correspondent for the Platform Performance Series.We'd also like to thank Kath n Dave and Sue n Mark who never know quite what we're up to but are always up for getting involved.
Check out the T-SAC Footage page for more photos and ramblings from the project!