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Art Train Conductor No.9: Dazzling the City

Toronto, Jun 26 to Dec 1 2012

Camouflage is by nature deceptive: as a mechanism that both hides and reveals, it masterfully tricks our visual experience. Offering a powerful conceptual framework, when combined with artistic practice it opens up perception to new possibilities. Adopting a camouflaged exterior, the elusive Art Train Conductor No.9 by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins is winding its way around the Greater Toronto Area, inviting all who catch a glimpse of the single GO Transit passenger car into a conversation on public transportation and the potential for building a more sustainable, integrated city.

In a collaboration between No.9: Contemporary Art and the Environment and GO Transit, the idea for Art Train Conductor No.9 stemmed from notions of adaptation. As an organization, No.9 is searching for ways to define an aesthetic that takes into consideration environmental issues where adaptation is a key part. As the city grows and changes so too must public transportation. By linking contemporary art and the environment, No.9 co-founder Andrew Davies hopes to inspire individuals through artistic projects, drawing them into discussions of change in the collective public realm. Artists often quickly respond yet institutions are slower to adapt. No.9 offers a platform for artists to consider the changing landscape—and in the case of this project—take into consideration a wider visual field.

As with any public project, persistence is key. With previous experience in the public realm, Marman and Borins often contextualize their practice within everyday life while also referencing and re-examining 20th-century art history. The artists allow a specific subject to define the form of their work and in the case of the train car it is camouflage and adaptation.

Pulling from a vast field of camouflage reference, the exterior of the GO Train car has been “dazzled” like a ship from the First or Second World War. Using camouflage as disruptive tool rather than a means of blending in, Marman and Borins reference both the natural and man-made environment creating a pixelated, striped and polka-dot surface. Interrupting perception, the train is used as a tool for stimulating civic engagement. If camouflage offers the ability to adapt and change to one’s surroundings then the art train highlights the possibility for public transportation to do the same.

Set to travel on all GO Transit routes, Art Train Conductor No.9 moves about the city as a site-specific, yet mobile, work—site-specific because it must respond to the context of the environment; mobile since its points of reference constantly shift and change. To push the conversation further, Marman and Borins—with the help of the University of Toronto Knowledge Media Design Institute (KMDI)—created a mobile app that speaks directly to the issues the project raises. Tetatet is a free, accessible forum for the discussion of issues pertaining to the environment and sustainability. The conversation is stimulated by a growing list of environmentally conscious contributors, such as Margaret Atwood, whose short interview clips were conducted and organized by the artists. Riders aboard the train are able to connect to the app through QR codes and add to the conversation Marman and Borins have started.

While not overtly political, the work exists on the periphery of civic issues. The artists further the conversation in the public realm with art’s ability to open up and alter perception. Any commuter waiting for the train will note how the wrap is a positive addition to the bland cars that usually travel the tracks.

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