Brian Reffin Smith at Muses Maschine

Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Alice in Wonderland.

The light at the end of the tunnel?
Or the tunnel at the end of the light?
Are you the train, or are you the tunnel?

Zombie ’Pataphysics and Trains Why Not.

We will be dead. We were “dead”. The thing is, are we dead now? (and other questions posed using model railways).

’Pataphysics is the rich, useful, absurd parody of a science of imaginary solutions.

Zombie theory states that inside each of us is a “zombie”, unavailable for conscious scrutiny, who takes all our decisions for us, then informs us of these decisions in such a way that we believe we made the decisions ourselves. There is no more “free will” than for a train on a line. Except that ’Pataphysics explodes everything.

“Thankfully, Brian Reffin Smith’s brain appears to work differently from almost everyone else’s.” Catherine Mason, British Computer Society arts pages.

Art is difficult today. Art academies are not doing their job properly. Just as everyone has a novel inside them, so everyone has an artwork inside them too. The purpose of a good art school is to seek out these people... and stop them. But some escape this filtering process and instead become artists. The gallery, curatorial and critical systems then publicise their failures as a terrible warning to others. You can do anything. You can even assert that putting model railways in a gallery is art. But what are the conditions, if any, under which the apparently playful juxtaposition of bits of railway lines, old trains and miniature suicides or fornications on the line can claim, or have claimed for them, art status?

I want to use Art & Language’s “emergency conditional”. The objects, installations and images are art just in case they might be seen as decoration or hobby material. They are bits of trains just in case they might be seen as conceptual art.

We, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, can hold at least two contradictory ideas in our heads before breakfast.

Trains have to go somewhere, or else they are just mechanical curiosities. But supposing the train just goes round in small circles, as model railways tend to do? The train is in an intimate relationship with its lines. Yet what does the train know of the lines, and vice versa? This is not metaphor, but a kind of possibly useful fantasy. The show is not a metaphor. It is a transgression. A train that goes nowhere, in a box or on the floor, is close to appalling, a display nearly as bad as a shark in formaldehyde in a glass box.

The lines are “like” drawings. They are also reminiscent of film, the sleepers like sprocket holes. But the lines don’t move. Something else, a reading head as on a Turing Machine, has to do the travelling.

There is a lot of mechanics here, and some “computer art”. There are also performative, authorial assertions and performances. Computer based arts, with more than 60 years of history (longer than Pop, longer than conceptual art) have often been criticised by modernists as not authorial enough, and by postmodernists as too much concerned with technocratic issues. Because critics from both of these standpoints knew next to nothing about computer based art such criticisms were almost always on a trivial, sometimes ad hominem (or ad machinam) level, though there was plenty of bad computer art that begged for this. A Zombie-Pataphysical approach can and must help. Zombie theory and ’Pataphysics are both the undoing and the doing up, the deconstruction and the reconstruction of oppositions such as modern / postmodern, of yes / no, true / false, 0 / 1, dead / alive.

With this work I have tried to place us all, along with Schrödinger’s Cat, in the box, the wave-form as yet uncollapsed.

Or to ask the simple question again, are you the train or are you the tunnel? (A clue: both).

Brian Reffin Smith


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