In the round

Mark Wallinger, When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity, 1998

While I’m still on a transport theme, however tenuous some of the connections have been, it seems relevant to ponder a work by Mark Wallinger that I saw in his Whitechapel show however many years ago that was (yes, yes, Google would know) and which has stayed in my mind but refuses to quite come into sharp focus for me. What I remember is a wall sized video projection of the view from a Circle Line tube train as it went round in circles. Standing watching the tracks as we travel forward along them is a slightly giddying experience. There’s no sense of separation. And there’s always something slightly vertiginous about a wall-sized projection; the lack of the framing device of the wall around the edge of the projected image means there’s a strange sense that this is a world we could pass directly into.

In the case of When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity, there’s also an odd sensation of the tracks vanishing into the distance. The tracks are, as rationally we know, parallel but they converge in front of us. This is a perspective drawing made in situ; the tracks are both a physical structure in the world represented on screen and the lines that help us understand its perspective. A small black dot offers a vanishing point.

This is the journey as artwork as well as the transport infrastructure as drawing. We are seeing the journey as the train driver would, as endless tracks ahead. But of course this is also a journey underground; a journey to the underworld, perhaps? There are signs of the surface periodically – sudden bursts of sunlight when the track surfaces – but there is no real escape from the gloom. We move forward but never arrive. We might stop briefly at stations but the journey is relentless and, this being the Circle Line, essentially futile. There is no beginning or end, just interminable middle.

Like many of Wallinger’s works, When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity is something I would really like to see again.

2 thoughts on “In the round

  1. I have had a recurring nightmare about subway trains since the age of 5. I am on the tracks and the train is coming at me. I’m paralyzed and can’t move out of harms way. Oddly this imagery takes me to that dream. I have since discovered that trains can be a metaphor for life. Do you get on the train? Observe the train? Does it smack you in the face and knock you over? Trains are apparently our relationship to being alive – should you dream about them. I get the feeling Wallinger has been dreaming about trains. Thanks for reviewing this. Haven’t come across this in Canada. P

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