It’s October, so yesterday, I went to my local Model Railway Exhibition. This happens every year, and I’ve posted about it before. Yesterday, I visited with my friend and former colleague, Alan Baines. It turns out, he’s quite an expert…
Back in 2011, when I first posted about this show, I mentioned several things that seemed to be missing…you can read my original, here
And here is part of the post…
I would say that model railways are probably where fine art was in about 1850! The show acts as a kind of salon where only certain kinds of lay-out are allowed. At the moment the quality of the work and the forms of realism are of a “classical” kind. Digital sound effects are just beginning to make an impact, but there is no point-of-view interaction and there are no film (movement or time) effects.
I think the absence of “cinema” effects is really surprising. Particularly since, as I’ve posted before, there is a long and glorious association between cinema and railways.
Anyway, you can see various groups trying to move their lay-outs to a new level of realism. This usually involves extending the scope of the lay-out so that the surrounding area (context) is also rendered in detail. The thinking is that more detail is necessarily better…It’s as though detail (verisimilitude) is an absolute measure of quality.
But this is nonsense. Think about literature for a moment. It is as if the writing of descriptive passages was thought of as more significant than the writing of character or plot. By attending to the detail, the models miss out on the feelings that are associated with the experience of the railway. Accordingly, the level of emotional realism is actually diminished.
It took years for painting to resolve the traumas associated with realism. This was especially the case after photography case on the scene and hi-jacked the claims to realism that had been implicit in fine art.
I still think that this is the case…
It’s all a bit odd, because all model railways are freighted with powerful feelings of nostalgia and desire. Nostalgia is a sensibility informed by history, delapidation, memory and place…the charm of the miniature and of the exquisite detail simply amplify these feelings, and implicitly make a connection to how we think about desire.
Going around the show, you can see that the people there are desperate…for new faces. Granted, there were a few yery young faces; but there were no female faces. Actually, there were two friendly ladies on the door. Inside, it is mostly white men, of a certain age.
This doesn’t make sense. Women like exquisite detail and the miniature just as much as anyone. There must be Indian model railways. I’ve watched the TV films…indeed, in the recent series about the Bombay railway, there was a sequence at the drivers’ school, where would be loco men are taught how signals work on a massive layout.
I would love to see a psychogeographical model railway…maybe with an essay by Will Self.
By a wonderful co-incidence, Nigel Carrington, the Vice Chancellor of UAL, was a non-exec at model railway company, Hornby PLC.
If I were Hornby, I’d be giving artists a model railway to play with…Jake and Dinos Chapman for starters, and possibly Grayson Perry too. With a book of essays by Ian Sinclair and Brian Dillon etc, and with a short film by Patrick Keiller…
Avtually, Rowland Emett created just this kind of whimsical railway for the Festival of Britain in 1951…part fairground ride and part railway…Ealing Films also mined this territory with the Titfield Thunderbolt (1953). Even better, Hornby issued a model layout set after the film…