Exhibition faces up to taboo of trainspotting as artist takes "last radical stance"

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 March 2014 | Updated: 28 March 2014

Marking the 189th anniversary of trainspotting, an exhibition sees the sensation as radical and taboo

A black and white photo of schoolboy trainspotters looking across bygone railway tracks
4CEP electric locomotive near Faversham, Kent (1959). Photo by Patrick Ransome-Wallis showing boys standing by a level crossing watching the train approach. One boy has squeezed into the gap between the gate and the post© National Railway Museum / Science and Society Picture Library
With the looming anniversary of the world’s first ever child trainspotter, when Jonathan Backhouse wrote to his sisters, in 1825, describing the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, a new exhibition, Trainspotting, will present a new commission by Andrew Cross, an artist and self-confessed member of the notebook-carrying ranks.

The museum's retrospective, it says, will induce the “strong sense of anticipation” felt by railway fans partaking of a “misunderstood” pastime. Cross was chosen from a shortlist of 120 artists.

“I see trainspotting as one of the last remaining radical stances you can take,” he says, expressing his glee at winning an “incredibly strong” competition.

“At a dinner party you can confess to all manner of things and no-one will turn a hair, but if you were to say you like trains you can see a palpable disquiet among your fellow guests who may not understand your motivation.

“Trainspotters demonstrate the ability of individuals to act freely in pursuit of their interests simply because they are not influenced by fashion or social expectation.

“As one of those '70s schoolboys grown up I feel I can add a real sense of personal experience – to recreate the sense of exploration, anticipation, and the final drama.”

Cross infuses his personal youthful memories into his art, adding contemporary film to link nostalgia with the present.

“We chose Andrew because his work has a strong sense of authenticity. He took his response to the theme right up to the present day, when technology has changed the landscape irrevocably,” says Interpretation Developer Amy Banks, discussing the Arts Council-backed exhibition.
“Trainspotting was one of the most common hobbies for boys in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, but we have asked artists to explore what it means today.”
  • Trainspotting is at the National Railway Museum in York from September 26 2014 – March 1 201. Visit nrm.org.uk/trainspotting.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a vast expanse of golden fields with a train track and wires running past it
Andrew Cross, Wagner Mills© Andrew Cross
A photo looking out over mountains in America with a rollercoaster and train tracks
US Highways© Andrew Cross
A black and white photo of schoolboys looking out over a vast array of train tracks
Schoolboy train-spotters at Newcastle Station (August 1950)© Daily Herald Archive /National Media Museum / Science and Society Picture Library
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