Text 13

Text 13, 2012, a video-documentation, 2013, view from the exhibition Get on with your work Jirka! Měsíc ve Dne Gallery, České Budějovice, 2015, photo: Měsíc ve dne Gallery


I’m always surprised about what I learn from people thanks to UNBOXING. A few months ago, actually half a year ago, one of those people was Marek Tomin. During our conversation Marek told me that the very first kind of geeky pastime and obsession at one and the same time was trainspotting. What is it? It mostly involves blokes hanging around railway lines, trying spot and at the same time record as many rare locomotives and other rolling stock as possible. The beginnings of this social activity can be dated back to the second half of the 19th century. I tried to verify this fact but discovered that the first guide to trains and railway networks intended specifically for trainspotters wasn’t published until after WW2. That doesn’t change anything about the fact that England is the cradle of this pastime and thus of geek activities in general, however.

Two number ones,
one vertical line with a little beak at the top
and one more,
that makes two.

Darius has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome—a disorder in which sufferers can become obsessed with particular topics, often exhibiting, as Darius does, an astonishing level of expertise. This significant fact didn’t come up until rather recently though-- when it was brought to the attention of the presiding judge who last sentenced Darius. Despite the fact nothing Darius has done has ever caused an injury or even recklessly endangered anyone, at that sentencing, in 2001, Justice Carol Berkman wasted no time in deriding Darius, ignoring the Aspergers and sentencing him to 2 1/2 to 5 years in state prison.[1]

A few hundred metres further along a row of silver birches appeared where the track used to be, there was slag poking through their roots and a bit further on there was a little bridge. After another circa 100 metres, a ditch stood out in front of a little garden colony and behind the fence there was a most bizarre, dilapidated building. According to the map there had once been a railway station building there.[2]

He was sitting on the train, watching a telephone line; it was suspended between wooden poles, curving downwards slightly. His eyes were fixed on the thin black line, rising and falling in a regular pattern. His eyes didn’t move, he was pressing his cheek against the dew-covered window and moving it up and down, severing reality in half. The treetops above the telephone line were shedding their leaves. Inexorably, the train was receding into the distance away from the freshly bared tree trunks.

In ‘Catch me if you can’ Steven Spielberg’s 2002 blockbuster based on the true story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., a buttoned down G-man played by Tom Hanks, stalks and eventually arrests a daring and inventive check forger played by the ever limber Leonardo Dicpario. The film, set in the late 60’s and early 70’s probes the emergent bonds between cop and crook, delicately delving into the minds and humanity of each of the fundamentally isolated characters.[3]

I loved those nights when the four of them roared past beneath my window. You could already hear it when it was departing from Olomouc, six kilometres away. The open window channelled that beautiful sound into the room. I savoured it and looked forward to the next one passing by. Back then I didn’t run around railway stations and tracks with a camera. I just used to sit around on the platform in Velká Bystřice, observing all the action. A lot has changed since then. The locomotives known familiarly as the Brigitte Bardots have gradually disappeared, fallen through the trapdoor of history or been cut up into scrap metal by oxyacetylene torches, and all I have left are these memories.[4]

He’s watching him with interest as he tries to keep hold of the camera in his hands, as he puts it in front of his left eye, trying to narrow his right eye at the same time. Just like his mother does, who owns the camera. He walks behind him, concerned about her means of production, but he doesn’t want to take it from him; he’s curious about how this will turn out. Once the son finally manages to take the first photograph, he decides to put the SLR on a tripod and set it up in such a way that the son can take photographs. Then they select his favourite toy cars together, he places them on the bed, opposite the lens. Eda concentrates each time he presses the shutter release, waits a moment and then joyfully shows him the miniaturised toy car with his finger on the LCD screen.

photo: Eduard Skála

Frank Abagnale’s forgery netted him nearly two million dollars—money swindled from others which he used to support a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, high culture and world travel. Darius, on the other hand had none of these amenities. He was once charged with attempted grand larceny—the charge relating to a vehicle he signed out and back in again precisely according to procedure. There was no fine wine, fast car, or world travel for Darius McCollum—just gritty days cleaning and prepping busses at far flung depots, or directing traffic and repairing electrical boxes in the gloomy semi-darkness far below the ground.[5]

So what actually happened, then? Train 671.003 set out from Ostrava in order to undergo the necessary tests to be able to operate a routine service. For me the significant thing was that during the day it was supposed to undertake the journey between Nedakonice and Hodonín under full power (I’m talking 25 kV single-phase AC voltage at 50 Hz) three times each way. Static tests were supposed to follow after its first arrival in Hodonín, but my colleague 771.068, who was also on the prowl, reported that he’d waited in vain. So I snapped it for posterity when it was in Hodonín and after that I set off to take a few pictures of its operational tests on line 330 along the already mentioned section Hodonín-Nedakonice. The strategic location I selected for this purpose was the tidy Hodonín-Rohatec section.[6]

It began at some point when he was three or four years old. Mummy and Granny noticed that he was starting to behave oddly, almost obsessively, during their regular trips to preschool. When he was balancing on the kerb he would carefully avoid the cracks between the stone blocks, when walking over paving stones he would only jump on those squares assembled from dark grey basalt and if he was on tarmac he took careful note of potholes and cracks. To begin with they thought it would pass, but it didn’t. The older he got the more ritualised became the way he walked, acquiring precise rules concerning what was allowed and where. What he didn’t know how to handle was grass. He considered it an exception, a space where he could move as he wished. That changed with the onset of puberty, however. That’s when he decided he wouldn’t venture onto grass at all, walking only on asphalt, concrete or stone, and nothing but.

Perhaps it’s the glamorized world of the biopic, but maybe Frank Abagnale did reap the benefits of a better time—one in which we understood the malleable boundary between lonely cop and accomplished criminal. A time when we were willing to allow for the possibility that someone could cross over that line. Perhaps it’s that Frank Abagnale was glamorous and white, while Darius is a pudgy African American. Or perhaps it is because being a forger and an escape artist is just sexier than impersonating a transit worker. But Darius McCollum is back in jail having never been given a chance to put his passion to work on the right side of the law—having been branded a criminal early, the system ignored a dozen chances to break the cycle of offense and incarceration—simply by giving Darius a job with the Transit Authority. We’ve never even tried, and for that we are all to blame. It seems that Darius’ McCollum’s life of incarceration begs the self same question that Frank Abagnale’s posed and answered some 30 years ago.[7]

I’m aware of having taken photographs of two prototypes that are to a certain extent related. One is battery locomotive A 219.0001 which was supposed to be located in Slovakia, held as part of the rolling stock of MAX Cargo company which was supposed to be offering it for hire (at least according to the 2011 Small Atlas of Locomotives) and the other locomotive is the 709.601-9 engine (previously catalogued as T 239.2001) which also happens to be the last locomotive manufactured by ČKD Prague. The current number assigned to this locomotive – 353.001-1 – is somewhat misleading, at least in my opinion. (Editor’s Note: This is the designation of the German Federal Railway Authority, assigned by DB Cargo during test operations). According to one piece of information which I managed to get directly at the location, this battery locomotive was supposed to be transported to Zličín. To what end, I do not know.[8]

Apparently it happened on the way from Lyon to Paris. Back then the two cities were linked by an old Napoleon road; straight, lined on both sides by trees spaced at regular intervals. Kupka was riding on his bike along this seemingly endless avenue and he noticed that the poplars were getting taller and starting to lean in, until eventually they were actually touching each other. What was it that happened back then? The painter’s body was probably influenced by several factors: the form of transport he was using, the regular spacing of the trees, the ability of the brain to receive and evaluate visual perceptions and ordinary human exhaustion caused by moving in a mechanical way for several hours. All of that together made this optical impression possible. In any case this moment, and Kupka’s awareness of it, marks the beginning of the development of the history of abstract painting, even though Kupka probably wouldn’t agree with using this term.

[1]http://davidfeige.blogspot.com/2005/04/trainman-darius-mccollum-sentenced.html; 16. 2. 2012.
[2] http://www.vlaky.net/zeleznice/spravy/002866-Vlaky-vlacky-nevlacky-aneb-toulky-po-jiznich-Cechach/; Translated by Marek Tomin; 13. 2. 2012.
[3]http://davidfeige.blogspot.com/2005/04/trainman-darius-mccollum-sentenced.html; 16. 2. 2012.
[4] ⁴http://www.vlaky.net/zeleznice/spravy/3964-Kdyz-mi-pod-oknem-sestivalce-dunely/; Translated by Marek Tomin; 13. 2. 2012.
[5]http://davidfeige.blogspot.com/2005/04/trainman-darius-mccollum-sentenced.html; 16. 2. 2012.
[6] http://www.vlaky.net/zeleznice/spravy/4002-Janosik-radil-u-Ferdinanda/; přeložil: Marek Tomin; 13. 2. 2012.
[7]http://davidfeige.blogspot.com/2005/04/trainman-darius-mccollum-sentenced.html; 16. 2. 2012.
[8] http://www.vlaky.net/zeleznice/spravy/3894-Jak-jsem-ke-dvema-unikatum-prisel/; Translated by Marek Tomin; 13. 2. 2012.