The Permanent Way

The Permanent Way is another name for the railway. During construction, a temporary track was often laid to transport materials. As the work was completed, the temporary track was taken up and the permanent way installed.

This work is part of an ongoing series of temporary documents of private performance. I lay clay on railroad tracks, I stand on it, then I pull it up behind me by turning it over.  The resulting tiles, with impressions of my footsteps on one side and the track on the other, are then viewed in reverse, so that where I was standing is now underneath. Likewise, standing on the upturned impression offers the unusual vantage of actually standing on the track’s underside.

The word understand, in Old English, translates simply as: to stand under, or among; while in Greek: to stand upon or before—both etymologies imply that understanding is experienced through the body. To understand something is to be physically near it, to touch it.  In an effort to ‘touch’ the unfixed and open-ended, I press clay onto my own body and those of others; I collect moments of connection and parting.

The tracks are in constant need of restoration, and taking impressions in “plasticine” was one of the earliest methods of measuring the extent to which the rails have worn.  In a similar way, these clay impressions are evidence of touch and records of wear. They are also inherent reminders of what is absent—in this case, the permanent way, the sure route forward, and the traveller.