My previous subway pieces have dealt with the seen and the unseen; I often thought of the visible part, the station itself, as simply the tip of the iceberg: a small, visible manifestation of the miles and miles of track that lay below, invisible. In Subway with Silver Girders, I included the track for the first time and found that this immediately set up an opposition between the track and the platform or station. On one level, I thought of the platform as being public and male and the track as being private and female. I thought of the track as it moves out diagonally from the platform as representing infinitely expanding possibilities. I saw the track area as a rhythmically flowing river overhung by trees and vines, a “jungle” full of life and unharnessed potential, unknown, underestimated, and possibly dangerous. It is the area of fantasy and the future. The station with its platform and tower is the City of Night on the edge of the river. This city, which appears at first to be ordered and rational, is on closer inspection found to be locked, congested, full of obstacles, and in the end, nightmarish and irrational. The tower is warmly lit and inviting, but this is misleading for it is inaccessible. The tower is in fact a control tower, but in the track the conduits are darkly tangled. Is the control tower the palace of an old order? The control does not seem to reach very far. One thing is certain. The track expands outward, growing ever wider and more complex.
I spent the summer of 1982 teaching at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. I looked closely at the buildings I saw in central Maine where the school is situated and in the end was most drawn to a covered stairway that went up the side of a two-story frame building in downtown Skowhegan. What attracted me was the windowed landing at the top and the oddly-slanted roof made of pieced-together metal sheeting. I imagined taking the stairs away from the structure they served so that they would stand on their own as a self-sufficient, eccentrically-shaped sliver of a building. Removed from its original function as escape route from and/or private entrance to a second story, it became the vehicle for an exploration of many emotionally powerful experiences I had that summer. One night, I spent hours watching a complete eclipse of the moon; often on other nights, Northern Lights would spread across the stars. Skowhegan Stairway became my escape route, my private entrance to the heavens—a kind of telescope or viewing platform like the stairways at Jaipur, India. One side became bright, reflective silver brick and the other side, sealed up when the building was removed, a black and tarry scar. The Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, and for a moment, the bright face of the Moon grows dark and cold. The stairway is removed from the building it leans against and learns to stand on its own, its purpose and focus changed.
Photo Credit: Peter Aaron/ESTO