salvaged wood, iron stakes, paint, nails, video, 300" x 300" x 240"
an installation by Yasmin Spiro
The idea for the work Tracks started many years ago. I was sifting through old pictures of my childhood and found an image of myself standing in front of a train with a friend somewhere in the countryside in Jamaica. I had accompanied my friend on her school trip from Kingston to Port Antonio on the Jamaican Railway, probably 1979 or so. I had such great memories, of the trip and the beauty of the long ride through the winding mountains in the middle of Jamaica, down along the coast to Port Antonio. The memories were so vivid, the change in the scenery of course striking, but also the smell. The stinky burning garbage smell of the outskirts of Kingston, the smell of wet soil and the ‘bush’, the musty smell as we went through tunnel after tunnel and then down the coastline with the salty, sticky smell of the ocean.
The railroad was once king and is imbued with a great romantic sense of personal and national history. It was this grand, civilization changing development that now exists in such a state of neglect in Jamaica. And really, around the world, where the ruins of a former railroad culture are scattered far and wide. The Railways of Jamaica, constructed from 1845, were the first railway lines opened to traffic outside Europe and North America.The railroad was closed in 1992 after many years of financial strain and damage to various parts of the tracks, only small parts remain open for use by the bauxite companies.
This interest in the railroad, stems from a little obsession/fascination of mine over the past couple years, abandoned buildings, areas, or infrastructure that have become ‘modern ruins’. They are incredibly striking in their rough beauty and hold such mystery and loss of what was and what could have been. These places and spaces seem almost feral. As if they are reverting to a wild state, out of one of civilization or domestication.
This is something that always seemed to be such an omnipresent part of the landscape of Jamaica. Buildings and infrastructure, half-built, abandoned, neglected because of money politics or more personal reasons that are imbedded in the mystery of the place or thing. In Jamaica the infrastructure is often both very old and very new, existing side by side, layered in haphazard ways creating this web of human existence. Infrastructure projects are often started and then left uncompleted because of changes in government, politics, and bureaucracy. Or new governments change their minds about urban planning initiatives and build new structures around old ones, leaving what I call ‘Urban Ruins’. This piece is one of those ‘Urban Ruins’. I’m always amazed at the power of nature to simply creep back in and subsume what once was in these ruins.
This installation is part of a series that explores the intersection of archeology, urban planning, cartography, fairytales and mysticism. It physically and conceptually reconstructs my memory of the rail lines using sculpture and film. The digital film interweaves old footage of the line with my own taken in 2009. The physical railway extends out into the space and swoops up and ends suddenly in mid air. The work mines my own history as well as the national one and explores the point where these two become intertwined and where the elements of fantasy and distorted memory come into play.
This project is part of an ongoing series of works that are made from simple materials that are often found near the site of the installation, I like to think of them as urban artifacts. It’s important to the work that much of it is made from ‘repurposed’ or recycled materials.