Choo choos a new track

01. 815NEWS

• Model rail enthusiasts Ric Webb, Bob Redman and Pat Cropley. Photo by Steve Grant

FANCY driving a train, being a policeman, a clown, an AFL footballer, US president or even the pope?

Choose your avatar and you can be who you like at the Perth International Arts Festival exhibition I Think I Can, an interactive instillation put together by a Tasmanian puppeteer and the Fremantle and District Model Railway Association.

Metres of miniature railway track snake around country settings; through villages and town squares, and over suspensions bridges—there’s even a cemetery.

Viewers choose one of 170 tiny avatars, which puppeteer Sam Routledge places in situ to becomes an ongoing story in the imaginary town. Viewers also get a passport allowing them to come back and direct their resident’s progress, which is also online.

The title of the exhibition comes from the children’s book The Little Engine That Could, Routledge says.

“[I] want to play with the optimism of that title and story, but subverting the value placed upon hard work,” he says.

“We’ll invite commuters to engage with an alternative, miniature version of themselves.”

An iPad personality test calculates their ideal profession, but Routledge hopes most will take a different track.

“Encouraging [them] to imagine another reality for themselves.”

He says model railway enthusiasts don’t usually see themselves as engaging in the arts: “[Yet] it involves complex work in conceptualising, designing and creating miniature worlds.”

The blokes at the Fremantle club were bemused by the instillation when the Voice dropped into their Fremantle Prison station.

They’ll ‘drive’ the trains, but don’t see themselves as artisans despite the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into their models. President Bob Redman says he’s not even a train person: “Electronics is my interest,” he says.

Past president Pat Cropley is into trains and joined the group two years after it started in 1976.

The small avatars they’ll use are bought “naked”, their clothing and features painted on by club members. “Putting the lipstick on is the hardest,” a poker-faced Mr Redman tells the Voice.

I Think I Can is a free festival event in the WA Museum’s Hackett Hall foyer, off James Street Mall, February 8–19 (not Mondays). Call Bob Redman for more info on the model railway association 0411 108 807.

by  JENNY D’ANGER

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