HD Video, 20 minute loop
Kamloops Art Gallery > October 18 to December 31
Khan Lee’s video Shunt focuses on the iconic image and sound of a freight train—a feature of the local landscape that is steeped in Canada’s growth as a nation and that resonates locally on many levels, as a key source of employment and a constant sign of the movement of goods. In relation to A Terrible Beauty: Edward Burtynsky in Dialogue with Emily Carr, on view at the Kamloops Art Gallery at the same time, Shunt contributes to ongoing dialogues about the sublime and industrialized landscape. To be viewed and heard inside and outside the Gallery, the work was produced as part of Luminocity, a week-long public art project featuring video projection, new media works and events in public spaces throughout downtown Kamloops.
Shunt captures the process of shunting or switching of railway cars, identified by the particular ultra-stereoscopic sound it creates. In a routine yet highly organized process, “rolling stock” is sorted into complete train sets throughout the day to ensure that goods are directed to specific destinations across North America. Although not typically seen unless you are positioned along the rail line, the sound of this shunting action is indelibly connected to Kamloops, a major junction of the two national rail lines, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.
Shunt plays with the notion of sound in relation to time, as the shunting action creates a cascading series of reactions from one car to the next, making this everyday auditory experience visual. The real time video is then compressed into a condensed and constructed experience for the viewer. Requiring precision filming and editing, Shunt captures the movement of the railway cars through the use of seven cameras positioned 240 feet apart and 360 feet away from the train, showing a panoramic view of the seemingly endless lines of railway cars and their steady movement through the landscape. Lee has also selected key works from the Kamloops Art Gallery’s permanent collection to coincide with his video work as a way of reflecting on this landscape and how it has been depicted by other artists.
Like many Interior cities in BC, Kamloops emerged along the railway route. Situated at the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers, the history of the Thompson Okanagan region is marked by the nomadic movements and settlement of First Nations people, gold prospecting, fur trading, cattle ranching and railway development. The Canadian Pacific Railway was founded in 1881 and the Canadian National Railway was founded in 1919 to link Canada’s populated centres through vast expansion west. While the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways are significant to the sustainability of the country, they are publicly traded companies. Built in competition, running parallel routes on either side of the Fraser River, the independent rail systems only meet at a junction in Kamloops, at a small rail bridge connecting two rail yards across the North Thompson River. Conscious of this history, Shunt is a contemplation about the notion of progress.
Shunt contributes to a progression of ideas that Lee has explored in past video and photography works such as Millennium Line (2012) and hearts and arrows (2013) in which he visually explored the historical, economic and social symbology of objects and the landscape. Millennium Line is a 109 foot photo backlit photographic transparency, displaying hundreds of stitched-together video images taken from the window of a Skytrain as it shuttles between suburban stations from the first to the last stop of the Millennium Line in Greater Vancouver. By carefully splicing serial imagery to construct one still image, Lee depicted the dynamics of Metro Vancouver and its urban expansion through compressed time. hearts and arrows captured one shot in one take of the artist carving an ice block into a rare and valuable cut of a diamond. Against the backdrop of the Burrard Inlet and the lights of the port in Vancouver, the work addresses the global trade of natural resources and human labour, and in this case the artist’s labour, from sunrise to sunset. One of the work’s built-in narrative arcs is the real-time progress of the day, and this sense of time is then altered through editing. Shunt continues Lee’s investigation into issues of labour, time and the metaphorical power of objects, in this case a freight train.
Khan Lee’s work is supported by the British Columbia Arts Council – An agency of the Province of British Columbia.