film still by Jamie Drouin of Conduit Roundhouse

A video shows Smith sitting on a chair, documenting the surrounds with a small wooden camera – a swing-lens Kodak Panoram from the early 20th century. The artist modified the camera, disengaging the mechanical shutter, to move the swinging action of the lens by hand.

Conduit:Roundhouse is a collaborative project between artists Jamie Drouin and Trudi Lynn Smith. A series of works, developed through visits to the E&N Roundhouse in Victoria West, operate at the interdisciplinary fold of visual and sound art.

Background

At present a site of transition, the E&N Roundhouse is considered an important part of the architectural history of Canada. This is evidenced by several prominent designations including its classification as a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada and a Municipal Heritage Property from the City of Victoria. These designations have meant that current re-development of the site mixes with the now rare architecture of train technology.

Over the course of the last two years, the Roundhouse has been a progressively fleeting space, one that is not a working train yard, nor developed. We had the opportunity to document the space and gesture towards it’s liminality and undecidedness.

The Artworks

The radical reformulation of movement, vision and travel that was generated by the locomotion of the railway was of considerable interest for Smith. During that time, a profusion of new technology experimented with an emerging individuality. These 19th century technologies – ranging from optical devices, sensorium environments and film, were on the edge of possibility in the colonial industrial machine. The radical reformulation of the world – and the consequences – bear consideration.

A video shows Smith sitting on a chair, documenting the surrounds with a small wooden camera – a swing-lens Kodak Panoram from the early 1910s, one that would have been used during the heyday of the roundhouse and rail (figure 1). The artist modified the camera, disengaging the mechanical shutter, and moving the swinging action of the lens by hand. The video does not show the photographic documents the camera produced, instead, the impossibility of the viewer seeing the thing that the photographer documents is at the heart of this piece. Not content to create new archival footage of a changing space, the artist challenges both the documentary ‘evidence’ of the archive and also makes evident the radical subjectivity at the heart of photography. At the same time, the setting of the video is the inside of the roundhouse, and so the place is revealed.

Drouin presents two sculptures which function as echoes of the physical structure. The first isolates and replicates the recessed corridors originally used by maintenance teams to access the underside of the train cars. In Drouin’s large-scale sculpture these corridors are illustrated by two parallel lines of blackened thin metal plates in an otherwise featureless room, terminating at one wall, and then reflected by mirrors.

Drouin’s second sculpture focuses on the low frequency sound collected by the Roundhouse structure. A large subwoofer cabinet speaker sits in the center of a room with a solitary flashlight resting on its top. Pre-recorded ultra low frequency sounds (ULF) collected at the Roundhouse – seismic activity, outside traffic from the nearby road, and construction work by the property developers – are barely audible to the ear, but vibrate both the speaker, and the flashlight, creating a subtly animated circular projection of light on one wall.