The Blue Train

You See Me – The Blue Train by Vera Frenkel / 16 III 2014

Brief description of the work:

The Blue Train, is a self-portrait and a portrait of an era, is mapped through two interrelated video narratives – one, spoken in my voice, based on a remembered fragment of my mother's 1939 escape from the former Czechoslovakia, and the one silent, based on a letter and photos by Black Star photo-journalist, Werner Wolff, during his 1945 return to his German hometown on assignment for the U.S. military magazine YANK.

These two videos, forming the central diptych of the multi-channel work, are accompanied by thirty-two 1-minute video narratives (8 of which can be watched here http://vimeo.com/album/2781156 - password: enroll) that introduce some of the passengers that might have been on the same train that day and witnessed the young Mutti and her infant daughter.

The point of departure for the voice-over account is my recollection of a fragment of a favourite, very eventful bed-time story: "Please tell me again how we escaped from Czechoslovakia". One specific passage of this complex journey through eight countries has haunted me over the years -- the part where my mother with her infant daughter, me, finds herself in a train compartment with soldiers of the Third Reich en route to Paris.

Created in response to an invitation from Ryerson University in Toronto to work with the remarkable Black Star collection of documentary photographs, this work was first installed as part of Archival Dialogues, the inaugural exhibition of the new Ryerson Image Centre. The impact of the Black Star journalists' collective portrait of World War II and discovering in the collection a 1939 photo of a refugee train caused a parallel haunting to the bed-time story of our escape.

In the The Blue Train gallery installation, the passenger narratives were played randomly on wall-mounted tablets interspersed with same-sized video stills, with a QR code nearby for visitors who wanted to capture the short videos on phones or tablets for private viewing. The two key videos, "In my dream the train was blue ..." and "Now that I'm back ..." are of different lengths, allowing for unpredictable juxtapositions when looped.

The resulting multi-channel video portrait, one version of which I'm submitting for your consideration, combines personal history and the external forces that shaped it, and has been designed for both gallery installation and mobile capture (via QR code or NFC/RFID capture) or both, with the 1939 and 1945 journeys serving as parentheses to what happened between.

The Blue Train has been shown as an installation (see attached article) and as a solo projection, and works well in both iterations, though of course the mutual resonance of all its layers, from still to video to mobile, delineating the portrait in increasing detail, permit the viewer, through the remembered voice of my mother, and eyes and words of Werner Wolff, to see me clearly on The Blue Train.

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Comments 1

Vera Frenkel
3 years ago
Vera Frenkel Artist
Although very computer savvy, I've been having a rough time with your web site, trying to submit a multi-channel video work which Silvia at Celeste assured me was eligible, but your web site doesn't make room for.

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