Wednesday 8 December 2010

Project 142040 "Leyla"

Been a while since the last update, so here we go with another model making project, set nominally in the Britannia universe (as with the model village) and on similar, if more sarcastic, themes...
Having lived for much of the last 6 years in The North I've become much frequented with the train known and feared as the class 142 Pacer. For the uninitiated this is a cheap and cheerful little commuter train assembled by British Railways in the 1980's in order to economically run services on little-used railway lines. High and worthy principles, poor execution... The trains themselves were based on bus components, mounted on a rigid chassis with a suspension apparently inspired by the humble Space Hopper, and with an engine out of a lawn mower.
There is one particular Pacer however which has achieved a certain degree of status amongst a small group of us transport photographers in the north. We cant remember who first noticed it, but one particular unit, 142040, started cropping up in the background of numerous photos. Someone would go to Manchester to photograph a steam excursion, there would be 142040. Someone waiting in the middle of nowhere for a train, there it is again. I've had the misfortune to stumble across it twice in the last 12 months. And as these things are wont to do, 142040 has developed something of a cult following amongst we northern train photographers. It even has its own group on Deviantart.
Over a few nights conversation on messenger between us though, 142040 evolved again- somebody made a comparison of the bouncy suspension to a boy racers car, and the rest developed from there. 142040 became known as "Leyla" (for Leyland National, her builders), and a personality evolved. Noisy, smokes like a chimney, bounces around, caused injuries to innocent passengers, vandalises trackwork wherever she goes... if Thomas the Tank Engine was set in the present day, she'd be the disreputable train hanging round the back of the sheds swigging cheap cider and swearing at passing express trains. And so Leyla was born:
The design led to an idea for a new project- a sort of send-up of the modern railway scene but set in the fictional world of Britannia, and done in the style of Thomas the Tank Engine, with models (but as books rather than a TV program). It would allow some further use of all those old model village structures, and would require the construction of some new model trains...

Starting point was this pair of simple toy coaches from a cheap, roughly O scale train set. These sets formed the basis for much of the trains in the model village project, and I had a few bits lying around leftover.

Leylas' bodywork was mostly built up from artists mountboard, overlaid onto the plastic structure which formed a nice, sturdy, square foundation for the model. The window frames were thin card, and somewhat prone to breakage until soaked in superglue.

She's about three-quarters done here, with glazing (from packaging material), and a very basic battery powered motorised chassis adapted from parts from a poundworld-bought toy train set.

And here she is finished and weathered- rather than a scale model, I was going for something more inspired-by, with the essential impression of a Pacer given. The ghetto-grilles are a hangover from the Model Village where most public transport had them fitted (garden mesh and OO flexitrack rails).

Note other details- her ASBO sticker, huge oversized spoiler, and massive speakers. Lots of inspiration from Boy Racer modified cars, in keeping with her character...

And finally a mock-up of the book cover in the style of the old Thomas 'Railway Series' books. The project is a long way off, theres too much else on at the moment, but the more we talked about Leyla the more attatched I got to the character I was creating, and I simply had to get on and model her. If nothing else, its endearing at least one of the Pacers to me, and believe it or not theres a few of us who want to see the real 142040 preserved when the class is finally scrapped... perhaps they should save her as a warning from history :)

Wednesday 6 October 2010

The Britannia Model Village

The Britannia Model Village was a large-scale art and photography project which I started working on in 2006 whilst at University. Our final project was an open brief, and I chose to do a body of work that allowed me to combine my interest both in dystopian fiction and also contemporary politics.

The model village angle came about during my research- I was interested in the fact that most of these tourist attractions are set in the past, in an idealised vision of Britain, a world of thatched cottages and village greens. I felt that subverting that image, and creating a miniature world with crime, graffiti, scruffy buildings and CCTV cameras would make for an eyecatching project.

The miniature world created for the project represents Britannia, an alternate version of Great Britain where the country is under the rule of an Orwellian dictatorship, a police state whose miniature citizens are under surveillance, where propaganda posters cover every wall, but where acts of violence and subversion continue to occur. The visual imagery is heavily inspired by the likes of "V for Vendetta", "Children of Men", "1984" and similar works, but filtered through a high degree of sarcasm and deliberately dark humour.

From a very early point in the project I realised that to have full control over the visual imagery of the project, I would have to construct everything myself. Thus the buildings are all based on prototypes from Carlisle (where I was living at the time, and where the Model Village is nominally set), and are constructed from home-made brick papers on foam board shells. The vehicles and figures throughout the village all began life as 1/32nd scale toys and model kits, usually bought second hand, and all extensively modified and repainted for this project. A full visual identity with logos, fonts etc was created for the fictional Britannia Government, and propaganda posters were created from scratch with myself or friends modelling for the photographic elements.
The buildings were made as portable sets, so that they could be redressed and placed into different configurations in order to create a large number of photographs. I wanted to give the impression that the final exhibition of images, and an accompanying book, were documenting a real model village.

The initial exhibition of the work in 2007 in Carlisle was very positively received, and images were chosen to be shown in Newcastle at The Biscuit Factory contemporary art gallery soon after. In 2008 the opportunity of a solo show based around the Britannia Model Village at a city centre gallery in Birmingham led to an expansion of the project, with new images shot focusing on new models, and which expanded the story of Britannia as glimpsed in the photographs. The exhibition in 2009 effectively marked the ending of the model village in this format.

The created world of Britannia however has continued to be a productive environment for work in other media, in particular a series of comics, short stories, and a graphic novel that are in production at the moment. Most of the models survive, and have featured in other projects I've undertaken since the exhibition, and the model village has led to further commissions.