This week I’ve been reading Paul Virillio’s “The Last Vehicle”, an essay in the dream blunt rotation of Semiotexte’s “Hatred of Capitalism”. It relates to time, movement, agency and spectatorship. If it was a movie I’d like it shown with Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” and Christopher Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism”; an all-night horror movie triple feature.

Some highlights:

“Spatial distance collapses suddenly into mere temporal distance. The longest journeys become scarcely more than simple intermissions. – on the beginning of filming cinematic scenes from moving vehicles – cars, trains, etc. … The audiovisual vehicle has triumphed since the 1930s with radio, television, radar, sonar, and emerging electronic optics.

From now on everything will happen without our even moving, without our even having to set out. The initially confined rise of the dynamic, first simply mobile, then automotive, vehicle is quickly followed by the generalised rise of pictures and sounds in the static vehicles of the audiovisual.

If automotive vehicles are today less “riding animals” than frames in the optician’s sense, it is because the self-propelled vehicle is becoming less and less a vector of change in physical location than a means of representation… The more or less distant vision of our travels thereby gradually recedes behind the arrival at the destination, into a general arrival of images… It is thus our common destiny to become film.

If the profundity of time is greater today than that of space, then it means that notions of time have changed considerably. Here, as elsewhere in our daily and banal life, we are passing from the extensive time of history to the intensive time of momentariness without history – with the aid of contemporary technologies. These automotive, audiovisual and informative technologies all operate on the same restriction, the same contraction of duration.

Let us not trust it. It conditions the return to the house’s state of siege, to the cadaver-like inertia of the interactive dwelling, this residential cell that has left the extension of the habitat behind and whose most important piece of the furniture is the seat.”

And from “Culture of Narcissism”:

“Most people, historically, have not lived their lives thinking, “I have only one life to live.” Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offspring’s lives.”

“La Durée” is a video study I made for ‘Cabinet’ group show at Mission to Seafarers (Narrm-Melbourne, 15 April 2023) exploring some of the themes I’m working on during this residency: freight trains and time travel.

During this online residency I’ll be documenting work continuing on the audio/literature project I started at my in situ residency at FAC in Dec 2022. Walyalup or Fremantle as a first site for it was apt, where I spent a lot of time around the port. A common thread in the work is ballast: the entity that fills ships’ hulls to keep them steady when not carrying cargo (the “ballast” here is just sea water itself), and the rocks under railway lines maintaining the tracks’ stability. It occurs in nature too: creatures like blowfish and argonaut octopi stay afloat thanks to water ballast in their bodies. So you go to this trouble to make something float, but then you have to weigh it down a bit for it to work properly – a kind of temperance.

Ballast is a vector for stowaways. Shipping ballast water is collected in coastal waters in one place then discharged in another, often full of organisms that get moved around from port to port. These creatures form a population of unwanted species when discharged in foreign environments, and have names like: Spiny Water Flea, North American Comb Jelly, Round Goby, Toxic Algae, Mitten Crab, Zebra Mussel, American Razor Clam, North Pacific Seastar. 3-5 billion tonnes of ballast water is transferred throughout the world each year, and the amount is increasing. Ballast water creatures are starting to turn up in new places as new shipping routes open up due to climate change, like the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Circle.

Rail freight (and its ballast) acts as a conduit for human stowaways, but its corridors also enable other species to mobilise in these relatively protected zones of industry. The history of trains is bound up in the history of time; time zones were created for them. Over the years I’ve wondered not just about the sentience hosted by trains, but their own imaginations and agendas. My favourite hobby is anthropomorphising stuff, but the iron horses make it pretty easy. I like to think all players have consciousness.