Sunday, August 3, 2008

Model Trains, Model Ships, Etc.

So, I've realized that one of the purposes of this blog is to contextualize for myself information that I would otherwise lose track of. I have 4,694 bookmarked websites in Safari, and fewer than that in Firefox. I was debating whether or not to go ahead and start a new blog for my installation art class, but I decided that perhaps this information relates also to my own art-making.

One of my assignments in the class involves a certain amount of simulation/ representation of objects at a small scale. For a long time I've been considering how I might incorporate the "model-train scene" into a project like this. Back when I was in grad school, an artist named Michael Ashkin, who had finished at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago right before I got there, started to get noticed for some pieces he was making that used the visual language and materials of model-train dioramas, although he was doing it ironically, "subversively". I liked these pieces.

Michael Ashkin, No. 92, 1998

Michael Ashkin, Untitled #29, 1996

A couple of years after seeing them, though, I made a trip to Milwaukee and went to a really heavy-duty model-train/ hobby shop. It had its own museum of railroad models. It was obvious that these "hardcore" train guys were extremely quirky, and just as nihilistic Michael Ashkin.

I see that Michael Ashkin is now teaching sculpture at Cornell and showing at Andrea Rosen gallery. And the dioramas-in-art thing has been in and out of fashion enough times that it's fairly standard-issue as an art genre.

A personal digression from the subject: when I finished grad school I really wanted to learn how to make serious dioramas, and applied for a job at Chicago's Museum of Natural History. I took their woodshop test, which involved building a box with a sliding lid in an unfamiliar shop while a supervisor watched and took notes. The test involved an error in the blueprint that you had to catch and acknowledge in order to pass the test. I passed the test, and was due to come back for a "respirator test"-- but the funding fell through, so the job was cancelled. Probably a good thing for my brain cells, considering the amount of polyester resin I would have worked with daily.

Anyway, the scale model/ diorama thing is a pretty good candidate for a sculpture assignment because technically it can involve some rudimentary woodworking (the small scale obviates the need for actual joinery or an understanding of expansion and contraction of wood), moldmaking, and resin casting in small enough amounts to not be too toxic. And the fun part is, there's a model train expo coming to San Jose in September! Nerdy, indeed, but one can imagine how hard it is to find any local class field-trip opportunities in San Jose.

Another personal digression here: all of this web searching about modelmaking brought me to model ships, and I was reminded of the fact that at age 8 or 9 I saw an impressive collection of model ships when we went to London, and I said to myself then, "That's what I will do when I grow up." The word "anal" had not come into its own yet then, but what I was thinking was that I could make model ships even more anal, more elaborate, more exquisite than the ones in front of me, if I set my mind to it. I have veered a little bit off this track, but not that far really. What I do now is close enough to making model ships. A bit of searching showed me that it must have been the Science Museum in London that housed this collection.

T.S. Mauretania, 1906, in the collection of London's Science Museum.

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