The Scratch Pieces.
Invisible Art - exhibit at Hayward Gallery

walking the adumbrated line

I recently got hold of a map of the PIttsburgh trolley lines, map created in 1957.   Trolley lines are categorized as single, double, running in the street or beside, planned, or decommissioned.

We would today see this map as a thing of singular obsession.  It is executed by hand, drawn with ink, ruler and compass.  In the day, those were skills routinely taught.  Today, I would map the terrain on Google.  Except that today  most of those lines are gone.  If  they appear on a satellite photo it  will be like the echo of a neolithic ruin, the tracing of a bronze age fort's foundations unseen except from an aerial examination of the land.  

 In  2012, the trolley system extends to the South, travelling under Mt. Washington.  None of the East lines remain.  In March  a new extension opened beneath the Allegheny River to join  downtown and the sporting  stadia.  Ongoing plans remain open for discussion to create a useful  Spine Line connecting Oakland, downtown, and the airport.  

This map shows the peak of trolley lines.  When people began to move out to the suburbs - especially our northern ones - the effort to convert/ create bridges with both traffic and trolley capacity was too much.  A bus system began to be developed, and in 1964 the Pittsburgh Railway Company (itself a conglomeration of many smaller lines) was absorbed in to the Port Authority of Allegheny County.  From then, and to this day, has been a process to diminish the public transit infrastructure.

Some things make money.  Some things cost money.  Transit costs money.  It is one of the signatures of a civilised nation that the citizenry can move easily and reliably for work and pleasure.

In Parallel Lines, Ian Marchant talks about trains. ( I've written about trains, especially the sounds they make. ) One of the lines referred to in Ian's  book title  is the painful, expensive, tiresome notion of modern rail travel in Britain.  

Mind you, I live in America, where there's one train a day between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.  If Obama really were the tyrant socialist we keep hearing about, there'd probably be a bloody fast train every 90 minutes. But so:  I left England when there still was such a thing as British Rail and for sure it had it's flaws but I was just a boy and took the 16:08 each day home from Manchester to Glazebrook.  In winter, when the dark came early, I could see red lights on top of pylons criss-crossing fields, distant and in the distance to become enchanting.  I didn't know Spender's poem Pylons, but I think I held an intimation of Auden's Watershed. ("...snatches of tramline running to the wood...."),  the Psychogeographic stance

This is closer to the second line, the parallel one, that's just a step outside the day to day, and stays  a little fey .  A love for trains:  to ride, restore,  to sing, or to wait  about  for.  National pride, personal memoir. Bucolic, rocking branch lines, noble steam,  mighty diesel.  Bit of Elgar in the background.

Building a model rail set is one way to interact with this romantic image of the train.  Literature and movies are filled with images to settle our subconscious in a love for trains.  Another is to 'Bash'.  Marchant puts it this way:

"I knew that I wanted to try my hand at bashing, and I felt instinctively that I was by both inclination and disposition a line basher at heart.  I did not want to travel for 1,000 miles behind a Class 37 Diesel.  I did not want to sit on a train with a stop-watch and a calculator trying to work out how fast it was going.  I did want to colour in a map.  I like the idea of colouring in maps.  Much more than actually going places.  When I am old, I don't want to say to my grandchildren, smiling up at me with Vaseline eyes, 'Look, children.  Here are all the places I've been.  Here are the sketches I made of all the wonderful people I met along the way'.  I don't want all that Werthers Originals shit.

I want to say, 'Look, children.  here are all the maps I've coloured in.  And I didn't cheat; I really had to go to these places before Iwas allowed to colour them in.  Wellm pass through them anyway'".

("Vaseline eyes".   Beautiful. ) Ian attempts to bash the London Underground in a single day.   I give nothing away except the result  to say that he fails.  

I also like this idea, of bashing.  I like the idea of taking my old trolley map and using it to recreate pathways through the town.  In some places I can walk and see the remnant of a track paved over.  Tracks and cobblestones, covered then revealed after a decade or two of winter buckles the tarmac.  To Bash lines that aren't there anymore.  The word for this is Adumbration. 

Adumbration (which I started to get in to for the aesthetics of The Scratch Pieces) can mean to mark out a pattern in a color only slightly different from the background field.  To adumbrate is also to partially reveal.  Walking those removed trolley lines feels like it will be entering in to a different relationship with the road, with the shape of human development in this place.  I expect I'll see dramatic relics of a bygone transit infrastructure.  Also  delicate bits laying around,  with  plenty of slogging up and down busy streets that have  no sidewalk.  Pissing in the rivers.   Sexy is, this psychogeography of adumbration.  

Some of this reminds me of Richard Long and his documented walks. Some  reminds me of Andy Goldsworthy and his rain shadows - adumbrated figures.

I will define some logic to create a subset of tracks.  Perhaps all tracks that pass within 5 miles of my home?   Then I'll take a copy of the trolley map, 1957, and color in the lines that aren't there anymore.