Monday, 16 June 2014

The enthusiast's museum

I was visiting Olso on a recce for relocation plans at the beginning of the month, when I took this photograph of an exhibit in the Oslo Tramway Museum. The design and aesthetics of trams from yesteryear are crucial to any decisions about upping sticks and moving to a new country, obviously!

What I like about such museums is that they are run by enthusiasts or amateur collectors. This museum, which we just stumbled across, is run by a non profit organisation of 450 members.

You can't imagine a gallery or prominent museum presenting a documentary film in the makeshift frame in the photograph above. Enthusiasm has ripped a hole into the past, there is nothing slick or superficial here, interaction is analogue and raw. Touch the surface, you will feel something.

For lack of either money or time, artifacts, many papers and objects have not yet found a 'home' in this museum. One driving compartment was stuffed with rolled up maps and objects, while other objects were out of bounds, in areas cordened off by tickertape and red road cones. I like coming across such back spaces in other public buildings, where things are stored. In the tram museum they are as much a part of the experience as the trams themselves.

Having said that, I am not really interested in when this or that tram was decommissioned. I just like the colours and look of the old trams, the way the destination signs have been hung vertically over one another on the wall and the slightly ramshackle atmosphere of the museum and someone else's interest in yesteryear. I am not a tram enthusiast myself. An interloper?

These kind of museums bring back memories of my childhood. I remember one holiday setting up my own 'museum' with a friend, collecting rocks, objects found by the wayside, even old bones as I remember. We were in a hot place and the museum was in a cave. I think we waited a long time for people to visit our carefully arranged exhibits; nobody came.

The image of the tram compartment in the above photo appeals to me for a different reason. The name of this blog was inspired by the painting Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) by Edward Hopper, which shows a woman sitting alone in a train carriage, moving through landscape. Alain de Botton includes a reproduction of this painting in his book, The Art of Travel, and writes:

"Hopper was drawn to trains. He was drawn to the atmosphere inside half-empty carriages making their way across a landscape: the silence that reigns inside while the wheels beat in rhythm against the rails outside, the dreaminess fostered by the noise and the views from the windows, a dreaminess in which we seem to stand outside our normal selves and have access to thoughts and memories that may not arise in other circumstances. The woman in Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) seems to be in such a frame of mind, reading her book and shifting her gaze between the carriage and the view."

Having a blog has felt like having a 'room of ones own' in whatever space you may feel the internet may actually be. I would go so far as to say it is a physical space for me in that can help my mind travel.  Having said that I would admit that my blog has also the feel of an enthusiast's museum: It needs tidying up, gets carried away by certain details and I don't have the technical knowhow to refine its look.

But I am always grateful when people take the time to stop by.

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