The Art of Train Travel Gemma Alldred
“...There’s so much to see on a train. Of course some trains are better than others for people watching...” This booklet is about the performance ‘Left Luggage’. This booklet is about the ‘thing’, only it isn’t ‘the thing’ except perhaps it is. Perhaps its a ‘thing’ in its own right. Perhaps it too can be ‘the thing’. It’ s not the performance or the blog or the train journey or the journal but a document. The document of the work? But the work isn’t finished. Work is never finished, never complete perhaps sometimes over or resting. This work isn’t finished, it’s still being thought. So this booklet isn’t a retrospective reflection of the work in the past, well actually maybe it is a bit, best to keep a record. But its also the thing, its active, its a document made to help keep thinking the thing, the work that is. At least when I chose to put these words in this order that’s what I thought I meant. Maybe there will be a retrospective, maybe there’ll be a photo of me typing these words at my computer screen and next to it more words about what I will think in the future about what I'm doing now, only of course now will be then, then. So with that in the mind the first half of this little book are about the thing; the performance, a way of explaining what happened I suppose. The second half is about the thing; train journey of the performance, a method of documenting through doing. And so this book is the thing that holds both of these things to view, in case you weren’t actually there at the time, it’s a part of a greater whole that none of us, not even me, can see. Although sometimes it might just want to look pretty all by itself for no other reason that it would like to display its own prettiness and not the prettiness of the other things its meant to be showing off. This little document might like a life of its own.
The Art of Train Travel
And This Journey is the End And This Journey is the Beginning And This Journey will Change Me
It’s the 15th October. It’s a Friday. The digital display reads 15.38. I am in someone else’s seat. Coach C, Seat 32. A window seat. It looks out to the right, my preferred side for this journey, but not my preferred coach. The front coach, no good in a train crash, especially forward facing. I’ve an open return. My return ticket is dated 16th October, which means it was bought on September 17th, bought before I’d even envisioned this journey being made. Before the leaves had turned golden and when the sun was still warm. How poetic, how romantic. But that’s how it was and how it needed to be. The ticket collector arrives. Today a small star pierces the bottom right hand corner. And now I’m travelling home on “The Party Express”. Travelling home for the last time.
Train Story 1 – The Beginning Enter space dragging cases, set up space. Acknowledgements. Take train seat.
I’d like to begin at the beginning. I mean its probably best to begin where it began.
I was on a train. I was on the TransPennine Express service, from York to Scarborough.
A little bit further down the carriage to my left I spotted a woman with blonde hair...
...She explained how she regularly caught this train with other people who worked in her office and that they didn’t call it the TransPennine Express but ‘The Party Express’. And how on Mondays they had ‘Bun Mondays’ when they took it in turns to bring cakes and on Friday, to celebrate the end of the working week, ‘Wine Fridays’. ...two girls returning from a shopping trip. An older women in a maroon coat. A young man with blonde hair who looks anxious in his skin. A man seemingly engrossed in his book. A group of young men returning home on leave from the army. A slovenly women with no front door key. A girl plugged into her ipod reading a book. A man reading the Metro. A casually dressed man drinking a station sized bottle of red wine. A woman swopping between reading an academic journal and a copy of Bella magazine. A Glaswegian woman trying to learn to crochet. A handful of teenagers, foreign, possibly Spanish. A woman with a bad cough. A man dutifully reading a photography magazine. A ticket collector, collecting confessions. A girl in a green coat. A girl in a black dress.
Testimony 1 - London
I was going to London to visit some friends, I always get worried about travelling to London but I was told by a friend that 29th January didn’t have the right media ring to it, 29.01.11 didn’t sound like a good date to pick for a terrorist attack so I felt a bit better.
The train was delayed by 10 minutes, I felt delayed by a lifetime. I’d had a really shitty night. I felt emotionally exhausted.
I watched as a girl in a black dress got on the train at York. She had a shoulder bag and a coffee from AMT, probably a latte probably a latte with cinnamon sprinkles. She looked tired, defeated almost, asking an older woman if she could move so she could get to her seat. She sat down drank the rest of her coffee and then pulled out a chunky spiral bound notebook, the type with loose leaf bits of paper trapped between the pages. She looked around the train for a while and then began to write, stopping occasionally to look pensive or look out of the window or to close her eyes.
I nodded off for a while and I was awoken up by the sound of a loud, male, middle-class voice trying to book a table in a restaurant. I decided he was from London and knew how it all worked there. He was offered a table for 7.15 but that was no good as they had to be at the theatre for 8. I remember thinking how exotic this seemed, dinner and the theatre on a Saturday night in London, I mean that’s living. Knowing how such a life is lived in such a busy place, that’s admirable, enviable even.
Train Story 3 - York to Nottingham
Thereâ€™s so much to see on train, so much happens, some trains are better than others for people watching but everyone, if you ask them has at least one story to tell. Like the time I was travelling from York to Nottingham.
The first train I got was fairly quiet but as I was travelling at night I was privileged not to see the landscape but the light-scape from the window, neat rows of car park lights, the meandering curving lights of the motorways that cut through the darkness and little pockets, little clusters of lights all shining and twinkling with the different intensities of built up areas, towns, villages and solitary houses.
When I changed trains it was packed solid, I had a reservation but no way of making it down the carriage so I took the nearest seat available and with a knot of anxiety hoped I wouldnâ€™t be asked to give it up.
To the left of me were two young women, the one sat closest to the window was reading a book and plugged into her ipod, the other, sat closest to me was struggling with a crochet hook and a piece of wool.
The ticket collector approaches.
I watch as the girl sat next to the window keeps glancing up from her book, observing as the other girl struggles with wool and needle, finally she puts a book mark in her book, closes it firmly, puts it down and methodically removes her earphones. She begins by explaining she can do it well and would she mind only she can see the girl has almost got it â€Śand is now giving the other girl an impromptu lesson.
The crochet lesson continues, I feel involved now as I explain I am an audience to their little performance.
I remember I remember that Summer I’m walking through the market square. I’m walking through the market square at night I remember that Winter night Our good friends are walking in front, walking close together, they don’t go out with each other anymore but they fucked each other up so much they’ll never go out with anyone else. I remember wanting a garden And you’re behind me, with her, when it used to be me and you. When it used to be just us, just the four of us. I remember it had snowed for days And we’re walking through that square at night like we own it. Like we used to own it, because we did, we did own it. I look across the square and I can almost taste us. I remember us laughing in the kitchen If close my eyes, I’m back there. If I close my eyes, I am 18 again. I remember coming to say good-bye I remember feeling worse than empty
“A girl in a black dress gets on a train” Wave It was on the train home that I realised how sad and how precious people are.
happy and hard it was. And
I felt grateful. I am grateful that I had the chance to have that again, to hold it, if only for a moment. Because so often people and ways of life s l i p a w a y without you even noticing and one day you realise that you haven’t been somewhere or done something or hung out with someone and you can’t remember when the last time was. There must have been a last time, a last time I saw you, a last time we went out clubbing, a last time I danced to that song, a last time we drunk cheap cider in the park, a last time we danced in the rain, a last time we held each others hand. But I can’t remember when it was. And so I am grateful because now I can remember. I can remember the last time the four of us danced together with our arms around each other, like I remember all the times we danced together before that, when we thought it would always be
that way. And I’m crying on them if I wanted to.
the train. Tears gently roll down my face and I couldn’t stop
And I’m thinking it’s a bit like a comfortable old jumper, it fits back on so easily but there is respect, these old ties are delicate and fragile, this beautiful thing must be cared for and nurtured. These memories and relationships are the most precious things. That
is the meaning of it all.
“...Except this isn’t what it’s about, I remember crying.... It feels quite difficult to say why I decided to take a train and perform the piece in situ for one person, whilst he took photos of me doing the same. It just seemed necessary, it seemed like it might answer the questions you might have about what I meant and what I intended. It felt like the best place to understand what I had discovered was back on the train where I’d begun all those months ago. If the piece had been influenced by a change of relationship which called into mind all the relationships then I wanted to tell the story to the people who it was about, some of those people have seen it. I invited them and asked them afterwards if they’d seen themselves there. This time, on the train, it was explicit. This time it was a fragmented performance, composed on the spot, improvised through conversation and discovery. At times we didn’t know what was performance and when we were just talking. When we were watching each other or when we were being watched. We were about to cry as old words changed into new meanings but interrupted by people using the onboard toilet or collecting our tickets or calming crying children the journey played us too. We/I wanted sentiment and the sentimental. I wanted nostalgia and contemplative reflection, the truth of the space of train, intervened and interrupted. I wanted to do this here, on a train like this, because of this. The piece I performed in the studio was by me to you. Each moment precise, timed, exact, rehearsed, planned. The train wouldn’t let me do that; a strategy for finding out more and a strategy to make more. In making the performance I had let go of the urge to ask people to join me on a train to hear some stories, I made something nice and complete with you over there and me over here. Now I wanted to return to having a conversation, to performing on a train for other people,
...I remember sitting on a train and crying.” like the casually dressed red wine drinker and the man seemingly engrossed in his book and the women who performed the impromptu crochet lesson had done for me. If this research was a performance what would it look like? if this research were a book how would it appear? What might the book know that the performance didn’t? I see it as layers, one upon another, like a tunnel, a ‘V’ shape with the most recent, closest, emotive things on the top, the biggest and widest but ultimately all connected to those that seem so far away. Like an iceberg upturned every journey reminds me of the others I’ve taken, I hope you feel the same and that you know what I mean when I tell you that everytime I cry on the train, I remember sitting on a train and crying. I can’t remember why I cried on that particular journey, the one that I remember in this way. I think I was homesick and heartbroken, I don’t really know, I just remember crying and knowing everyone was watching me but not being able to stop. So what follows is about these things and the performance. It is a part of the documentation of the work, I took the journey for this purpose, it wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It was also is own performance and so this is becoming the documentation of the document of the work as a train journey. “...Except this isn’t what it’s about...” I realise in process, it isn’t about the stories of other people, its my story (and yours). I realise in performance, its isn’t just about these stories, its about the journeys, its about the reasons I was there to collect these stories. I realise, now, here, on this page......
A girl in a black dress gets on a train. A girl in a black dress gets back on a train, knowing what she knows now about what she did then. Her journey is a reflection, a summation, a full circle on what has happened before and it is a journey all of its own to be spoken about again, to be made new. This train will be calling at Seamer, Malton, York, Leeds, Huddersfield... Liverpool South Parkway
“Liverpool South Parkway, when did that happen? It’s a new one.”
Everything familiar but also brand new, she hears the words she spoke before as though she is hearing them for the first time and the thousandth time. The girl in the black dress gets on the train but she is not alone, its as though she is taking every journey she ever took. She is reminded of the feeling she had, a feeling of not wanting any new memories for not being able to bear the weight of the ones she already carried. Sometimes everything happens at once. I think that’s what I might’ve meant to say, at least in part. On the train the girl feels like a child, delighted by the ritual and the game she recognises repeating itself for her... “again, again” but this time it goes too fast. Later. Finally. Time passes. Towards the end, she too stands on a platform waving. It is finished, it feels finished. It has played through her and from her and with her and now as she waves good-bye in real time it’s like the final moments of the performance make sense. Finally she is really performing this, its no longer a gesture. This is a good-bye, this is a beginning and this is an end.
Onboard Journal Entry (edited) 20.43 28th May, Coach B seat 24. A priority seat, it looks out to the right. Forward facing - of course. I’m so excited to be taking this trip. Writing down, listening to the announcements. Time passing gives it a nostalgia. So much I want to record perfectly for posterity that I’m missing it all by writing in this book. The sky is beautiful outside, clouds with the late evening sun glistening god-like behind. Ruining the moment - the sound of digital music emitting from what I assume is someone’s phone. Two boys have caught the wrong train. I want to document through action, reflect through doing. Creating new work which exists for ‘documentation’ not finished ‘performance’. Never finished, merely captured...... there. Shit, I forgot the Polaroid camera. The light and countryside is beautiful. Blues. Greens. Blues. Three horses in coats. God shines yellow indigo. Beautiful. This train is so full up for me. Full of connotation and knowledge and experience. So exciting to experience this new way of experiencing because of the experiences I’ve had. The boys on the wrong train are still debating what to do. They are decidedly not going to take a taxi home to Brid, as that’d cost £20. There’s a performance at the end of my carriage. If drunk men and digital noise can go unquestioned then I should be able to perform on Monday... I hope. Some sort of performance will take place. Like the one taking place, now, within me. There, on this train.
Being there and here. What does it mean?
Onboard Journal Entry (edited) It’s the 30th May. It’s a Monday. The clock on the digital display reads 15.48 We’re off, leaving Scarborough on the final of the journeys? The completion of the work or at least one circle of it. The ticket collector came and punched a hole, I was cued by her arrival and began to do the story about being on a train, “today a small star pierces the bottom right hand corner....” And then I did it again, in the moment. -
A girl in a black dress gets on a train
Oh yeah, then what happens?
me & you:
Is that you, yeah?
Yeah, Yeah. I think it’d be obvious.
Well you are wearing a black dress so it would be.
me & you:
So the ticket collector approaches and my ticket is dated the 27th June which means it was bought on the 28th May. Bought two days ago when I knew this journey was going to happen. Although I’m quite excited to find out what hole she puts in it today.
I guess I skipped a bit, talking about London.
I sat on a train observing people, observing my thoughts, letting what I saw remind me; watching myself by watching people. I wondered what people had been reminded of as they sat observing me, had they also been watching themselves? Hi Gemma, here are a few words… As I listened to the woman’s story I was suddenly transported back in time to a train journey between Berwick on Tweed and London during which I cried most of the way, mourning a relationship which was never going to be the one that I wanted. The performance reminded me, and I imagine others, that we have all undertaken ‘that journey’. The one within relationships which leaves us temporarily broken and wondering whether we will ever feel whole again, whether we’ll ever get through that very long tunnel. A beautiful and moving poem about what it is to be human. Another sort of Journey At the beginning I kept thinking and asking myself why it was I was alone, towards the end I began to ask, what does it mean to be alone? That feels like a good question to ask. At the beginning I noted that I felt like the only person in world, on the last journey I wrote, ‘if I’m afraid for my heart I will always feel like the only person in the world’. That feels like a good thing to notice.
When we got on the train it was busy, not bad for a wet bank holiday Monday. I’d seen us sat at a table, occupying 4 seats between the 2 of us. I’d seen the plant pots all lined up along the table that would be in-between us. I’d imagined snatches of conversation to be heard and overheard, stories for everyone, stories just for you and some stories for no-one in particular or no-one at all. When I stand on the platform I want to show you something. I’ll do the ‘live art’ bit here. I thought Noel Coward had got it right, those stage directions, I recognise Laura, I don’t mean that I’m her but that I’ve seen her on that train, looking ‘exactly what she is’. Kurt Cobain and Rachmaninoff, unlikely isn’t it. I thought there might be more to see out of the window, I know how it goes hills lose signals, a forest on a hill, a glimpse of the river and then the flat expanse. I really wanted to wave good-bye the length of the longest railway station bench in the world. I wanted to take the same amount of time as it would take for a train to appear from the distance and stop in front of you, you being the end of the line. You being the start of the line. I thought it’d be nice to have a choir and a band. I’d still like those things. And you. Four of them sat on a bench being a train. Four of them playing a song we all sing this time. This time we will all dance. The final stop will be your stop, at least that’s what I wanted. The final stop will be time to share and time to talk. Let’s all talk to each other on the train, we’re all just people on trains after all. You’ll watch me and watch yourself watching me and I’ll watch you and I’ll watch myself and I’ll tell you what its like. We’ll probably laugh. It’d be nice if we laughed for once instead of always crying.. One day I’ll remember sitting on a train laughing. I’ll wear a green coat. I won’t be wearing this black coat over this black dress, does this mean I’m a girl in a black coat now? It won’t be cold or raining, there will be sunshine and you won’t keep asking me what it is I would like from you being here today. I’d thought it would be easy. I imagined that it would be different. I guess its not actually that difficult, its a matter of perspective. I don’t know what it means, I know what it meant or what I think you saw. What might it mean? What might it be about? Those are questions. Although this answer is still true, I didn’t imagine this, but I’m glad I found it, “And that is the meaning of it all”. I’ve an urge to leave this page at the end of that line, perhaps you would have felt differently if I had.
Platform Journal Entry (extract) Loving the duplicity, loving being sat here drinking AMT coffee - I’ve finished the piece! I followed the train cues - but the London story wasn’t there. But now, sat here, where I sat in January feeling emotionally exhausted I am sad again writing about remembering the actual event in a black dress. All the points are meeting, it feels like they’re all pulling together into the ultimate understanding. Not sure how it worked on the train as performance - definitely something there. If I did it again I’d book seats and enlist friends. I liked the showing of it, I liked being able to explain to someone in the moment. In this sense it was the most present of all the work. I shared quite personally, a new showing? a real showing/sharing? --Sitting there on the platform drinking coffee writing in a journal I could see myself and the train, like I saw myself or imagined seeing myself on that miserable morning in January. Of course I was the girl in the green coat who became the girl in a black dress and that day I had a coffee from AMT, I sat down and pulled out a chunky spiral bound notebook, the type with loose leaf bits of paper trapped between the pages. 29.01.11 - 30.05.11 Except, true to form, this isn’t how it ended. I walked you to the station and as we waited on the platform I realised that it was my turn to be left on the platform, that I would see you onto the train and wave good-bye. That gesture was found, taken and used, ‘wave’ was a pretty little theatre thing, but suddenly it had meaning. It was mine in that moment. An ending and a beginning.
“This is how I want to remember....” Gemma Alldred is an artist interested in the relationships between people, in identity and identities, in the relationship between biography and autobiography. As a performer, writer and story teller she uses herself, those she observes and the space in-between these moments to construct narratives both real and imagined. Her work is characterised by warm and inviting performances that ask audiences to witness, participate and become complicit in the work.
Get onboard: www.theartoftraintravel.wordpress.com With thanks and acknowledgements: Photographs by Elfi Childs, Nathan Bottomley & Gemma Alldred.
I asked if love still existed Yes, was the answer. But how, how can it be surely your heart is bitter? Yes, was still the answer And yet I feel like the only person in the world
Artist's document for research and performance, Left Luggage by Gemma Alldred