Conarroe tracks trains’ enviro impact
SCOTT CONARROE at Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen West), to September 12. 416-504- 0575. Rating: NNNN
In his latest exhibit at Stephen Bulger, By Rail, Scott Conarroe looks at the North American railway system, documenting train sites all the way from the American Deep South through the Midwest and up to the Canadian North.
With deep intelligence, Conarroe frames landscapes with a bracing, almost formalist visual logic. His approach echoes the viewpoint of the rail traveller: distanced and serene, imbued with a meditative calm. As he moves from Southern port towns to desert trailer parks and cosmopolitan city centres, he catalogues the continuously shifting dialogue between industry and nature.
In Prairie Tracks (Saskatchewan), the tracks are almost ecstatically swallowed by the vast prairie and rosy sky. In Loop Canyon (Chicago), however, nature has ceded entirely to a maze of interconnecting steel curves and concrete planes.
The neutral vantage point is offset by the intense detail in each print. These are long, still exposures, resulting in colour saturation and crystalline detail that fairly pops. The eye gets carried away by the salmon hue of a decaying building in New Orleans, the bright blue of a Miami monorail car or the dusty green and blue of a Nevada hobo’s tent.
It’s a visual dialectic entirely suited to its subject. Railroads are Cartesian enterprises, criss-crossing a varied and often wild landscape with straight, unyielding lines. Yet these artificial transport lines have given birth to odd clusters of human communities gathered near them like so many villages on a riverbank.
Conarroe’s prints remind us that rail travel not only defined the landscape and culture of the 20th century, but also gave us a new way of seeing.