Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Review: Art on Track

Installation, Performance, Public Art Add comments


Transforming six El cars into interactive art installations, the annual mobile pop-up exhibition “Art on Track” turned the scramble to find a spot on the train into an elaborate game of musical chairs, wherein rushing from car to car was both part of the fun and the project’s prime hazard. This year’s fare included an ambient summer-camp-themed installation starring a giant Lite-Brite sunset, a walk-in cabinet of curiosities complete with palm reader, and a live fashion shoot. More like perambulatory theater-meets-theme-party than site-specific contemporary art, the scenes in each car read like tableaux vivants, plopped into the train without rhyme or reason—not exactly a bad thing, since any imaginative modification to the Blue Line’s scummy, droll interior counts as an improvement. However, given the countless examples of riveting site-reflexive art that, by definition, respond to the specifics of a certain place, exploiting its inherent characteristics rather than taking them for granted, “Art on Track” had a lot of unrealized potential. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the whole experience, so ripe for further investigation, like the uncanny feeling of traveling to no particular destination, were mere accessories, or even hindrances, to the actual work. My tour through the exhibition was unfortunately cut short because I hesitated too long before choosing the next car and the doors closed, shutting me out. I’m told I missed the best car, organized by Noisivelvet, which featured “El Stories,” a series of improvisational skits that drew on audience members’ past El experiences and cast them as actors in the skits, making the audience members co-creators of the work. Producing an art event on public transit is doubtless already a heroic endeavor, involving many actors working together to make it happen at all—hats off to everyone for all their hard work. But the project merits further development. I’d like to see it go to greater lengths to synthesize site, art and audience experience, and to evolve from an exhibition that temporarily alters the train to an event that transforms its passengers. (Katie Waddell)

One Response to “Review: Art on Track”

  1. spudart Says:

    Wishing that the passengers would be transformed is a noble desire. I’m curious how you would go about doing this with a CTA car. I would argue that most of the cars in this year’s Art on Track accomplish that.

    Your observation of the “uncanny feeling of traveling to no particular destination” is reflected in the fortune teller’s actions. The fortune teller tries to predict the future (aka destination) but it’s really just a shot in the dark.

    The storytelling car (which you unfortunately missed) transformed my perceptions of riding the CTA. It made me realize how many CTA stories I have collected through personal experience. THat was definitely not a “plop” artwork that was just merely placed into a CTA car. The whole experience defined what it’s like to ride in a CTA car and the very extremes of experiences that have happened to riders.

    The Lite-Brite car had a section off to the side that was like sitting under a night sky. It transformed my view of riding on the CTA. When riding the train at night. we are riding under a night sky. We so rarely notice we are riding under the stars, because there are so few visible stars in the city. But having those stars inside the train transformed my reality that we do indeed have a connection to the universe, even when riding on the CTA train.

    The fashion shoot car didn’t so much transform myself, but only reaffirmed that often the CTA trains are like fashion runways. People walk up and down the aisle wearing the latest fashions showing off to other people.

    The typography car was cute and novel. I’d have to agree with you, that this particular car didn’t transform me as a rider. I felt like I was standing in front of a refrigerator doing Magnetic Poetry with a limited number of words/letters.

    I didn’t ride in the front car, so I don’t have anything to say about that one. The cars this year were much more crowded in years past and people didn’t move around inside the cars as much. Probably because it was on the blue line this year making the doors open much less frequently. Often I felt rather caught on some cars for too long. While that’s an interesting experience being forced to encounter and interact with the art longer than I normally would at a gallery, it was a bit much when there’s tons of people crammed in with you.

    Of course, this is part of the experience of Art on Track to be up close with other art participants. Even at a gallery opening that is jam-packed with people, you at least have the opportunity to move around freely and not be stuck inside a space. It sounds like I’m complaining. Maybe I am. But when it came time to get on the first (and my last) car, we opted to skip it, because we were already at Clark and Lake and didn’t want to wait for the train to circle back around to our stop again.

    I’ll definitely go again next year, because the experiences on most of the cars were very interesting and in some cases rather transforming. This year’s cars did a great job with focusing on a particular theme per car and really running with it. Other years there were some cars that just merely hung artwork inside the train. Here the cars were transformed and the participants–could be argued–were transformed as well.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.