A train ride backwards.
It wasn’t that long ago that things were almost unrecognisable. By ‘that long’ I don’t mean the new normal we have birthed based on the pandemic calendar, I mean a decade or so ago, a time before nostalgia can confidently set a historical fiction there, but before the re-wiring that technologies considered novel benign distractions ushered in. Cassettes were a legitimate option (just) and it was relatively certain whatever you watched on Thursday night was inevitable enough to be common conversation on Friday. We hadn’t realised how much we ‘needed’ our current networked desires just yet. Need and Innovation are rarely bedfellows though. We ambled on, unaware of the weaponised networks of attention waiting in the wings.
Long before the hive-mind colonised curiosity, back when the crowd sourcing of consensus was still in its slow moving infancy, mystery, weirdness and (for want of a better word) The Fucking Sublime, was so prevalent…. We… Mostly.. Just.. Ignored it. The world Was a mystery.
The past, somebody said is a foreign country, but ‘not that long ago’ these days seems like aeons, and covid killed even the most superficial ideas of travel. Now the foreign extends past the fronds of exotic. Unfurling firmly into the territory of the Alien. Time on the other hand, has shrunk, centuries, then years, into shrugs and milliseconds. The only unit of time we bother measuring is whatever the arrhythmic spasm ‘attention’ is counted in. The past is close enough to touch, but Xeno divides every stuttering count into the moment forever. Infinite stop frame seizure. Packaged into priced units. So it is hard now to recall with any accuracy what the daily textures of life felt like. Back then I was living in Scotland, travelling an obscene amount. Most of the meetings I had have been forgotten.
What I do remember is endless hours in public transport. Train rides from Edinburgh – which I had chosen as my adopted home – and London – which had been selected as the defacto hallowed ground for meetings to take place in. Back and forth, eight to ten hours, with the occasional mis-booked sleeper costing both more hours and more sanity. Flights were less convenient than the BA breakfast and stingy airmiles might indicate. Limping into Central stations in overpriced overground ‘express’ trains, or sweating the underground(s) that clasped desperately (Unevenly) at the edges of outer rural suburbia. It was ‘much of a muchness’ in comparison. That said, I, like any other, enjoy.. no, adore the hypnotic rich rhythm of cross country train rattle. The sense of leaving behind yet arriving, the separate dusty intemperate view of cities and fields flowing at just the right height to see the horizon blur. There are few things better than the low hypnotic reassurance of an engine pushing you ceaseless forwards. I wasn’t alone in these journeys. Turns out the infrastructure second guessed our need and with barely perceptible nods we would board the train at Waverley, suits buttoned and sandwiches held like talismans warding against double booked seats and delays- There was so many of us it almost seemed reasonable in its normalcy… As the passengers thinned in the middle country we could wordlessly agree our importance. I am sure I was not alone in the notching of the rosary of milestones.. Berwick upon tweed, Newcastle, Durham nearly home. The mistep of the midlands suddenly granular, in boroughs you recognise from evening headlines. Names lost in signs a carriage or so down. Then as rapeseed peels into grasses and wetlands, dozing glimpses into brick buildings and too narrow high streets, London.
Alfred, the kid is ghosting.
Hours swallowed, watching the alien landscape scuttle past in boundless familiar degrees of depth, shocked at sudden expanses, broken by fleeting emptiness of green and grey, the small windowed existence built beside train tracks. Lives lived in the glances of timetables. You are taken by a scent you think you smell, a meandering gold bleeding into black, Confused by power stations and bridges saluting nothingness. Smoke, from chimneys you can’t name, lives you might envy in the downtime between table service and toilet breaks. A country, no a universe you can barely describe, never mind remember. And yet, the edging scent of fabric softener against the blue brush ash of industry smells like home. Anyways. It was on trips like this that I would see that graffiti under the bridge. Just outside of Newcastle? Or was it before. Definitely in the North of the country. Nearly everyone who had taken the train had seen it. Puzzled over it. A colleague commented on it. Written on an underpass. A redbrick roadway, constructed with the same crumbling care as the houses that fringe it. Written in an unsteady scrawl nearly the size of the underpass.. “Albert, The Kid is Ghosting”. Ghosting wasn’t a term then, well not for the date based disappearing we use it for today.
I remember it as urgent. But calm? My punctuation is off. Yet whoever painted it considered the punctuation. They definitely included the comma. I always write it sounding out its Grammar. Matter of fact, a pause then the observation. Albert. Why so precisely worded? Whoever was the speaker was not concerned, or at least not rushed in the delivery. An aside almost. The kid is ghosting.
All those shadows, the fellow travellers leaning into the weekly commute. They saw it too. We all somehow saw it. Two lines of basic graffiti, but It was famous. More than the Banksy on Camden lock. No one talked about a banana. Everyone asked what that other bridge meant… famous in as much as famous(ness) could travel those yesterday roads, and as we established. Even miracles were slow then..
But it didn’t matter. Hesitate drunkenly at a shoreditch pop up, or come to shivering outside a Whitechapel brothel, stutter when you run out of anecdotes at your boss’s dinner party… and you could hold your breath for less than a regret takes to shape and the person beside you was sure to nod and wonder too. Who is Albert? Have you seen that bridge? Between Scotland and, what is it.. between there and here? No idea, but somewhere.. but it says that thing? That thing right? The thing about ghosting. Why is the kid ghosting? What does he mean? And should we be warning whoever Albert is or hoping he never finds out. Why him?
AR and art at the edge.
The point is. Even in a time of treacle based touching and barely awake transcendence. When miracles needed to be faxed and breakfast preference dictates allies. Something magic still crept through. Drowning in a million uncertainties some mysteries kept afloat.
Some careless writing under a bridge could be a passport to a world inescapable but suddenly universal. Inexplicable shared mystery. Art,
For a time there were many websites and a few active forums sharing theories on the meaning and the author. Search today and you barely get anything. A googlewack nightmare trimmed before the fringes flow. A thumbnail from a gallery where an artist namecheck it clumsily nestles between the more purchasable and the more immediately relevant. But it seems enough…
But it is less than any of the above.
The world is still a mystery. The streets we wander have names older than us, our keys jangle in borrowed pockets. Wizards write cures on the walls. Somewhere the Kid is ghosting.
A Geo-located travelling AR NFT exhibition.
We deserve the beauty ambiguity brings. The soft moment when the cat is alive and dead. A sense that something you can’t quite see is hovering above you. Maybe watching maven waiting for you to watch it back. That is why this is called ghosting. Not because Snapchat became a spectre against a more meaningful temporality. Not because the ability to disappear under the panopticon of tech is impossible. Not because the spirits we court are want to disappear like bored algorithms running against the edges of their dictionary. It is called ghosting because the kid was already vapour.. We didn’t realise we where a short future away from atomised attention units.We are ghosting and Albert whoever he is.. Knew before us.
That idea of a mystery in plain site, something arcane and unknowable yet seen by all is what the next show is about. It is a happier fork of reality, the artists working in that space just outside of the common, these AR pilgrims would form the foundations of what could be. Art, owned, moved from creator to collector. The fist monuments to the digital layers potential. A reminder that we can return to the vivid. Perhaps in this timeline all they will be is spectres, ghosts haunting the nightmare the FANG will happily invite into our living space. So long as they remain, even mysteriously and as inexplicable as some weird anonymous graffiti then our role as first settlers is not for nothing.
In the new year illust is more than excited to bring you a worlds first. A travelling AR NFT exhibition that will haunt the edges of our cities. More to come…