When the Mexican national railway system privatized in 1995, passenger lines were decommissioned on the grounds of low profits. Despite their viability, almost 6,000 miles of physically intact track were abandoned. Artist brothers Ivan Puig and Andres Padilla Domene are Los Ferronautas, intrepid explorers of dead railway lines and co-pilots of SEFT-1. The SEFT-1 is an outer space-inspired craft for discovering the inner space of the country. Short for Sonda de Exploracion Ferroviaria Tripulada, or Manned Railway Exploration Probe, the SEFT-1 is an aluminum-bodied, data-gathering, manned vehicle that takes to the tracks, or takes off from them when need be.
Between 2010 and 2012, the two artists steered their retrofuturist creation through miles and miles of track, eating and sleeping in the trundling pod. Like any well-developed mission, they observed, documented and collected. Video, photos, objects and stories that they gathered provided supportive material that clarified how the rail system once functioned and illustrated contemporary life at its dead ends. How the network connected and then disconnected communities, and what the country looked like, 15 years after economic politics stopped the trains.
Missing every cue for trite steampunk nostalgia, the duo instead investigated modern ruins with an eye for the personal and the ironic in the built environment. The "ruins" in question are recent, with clear physical presence even where the tracks themselves have been plundered for scrap. The whole project is imbued with technological charm, and highlights human whims as they shape technological use. The beautiful photos and personal stories collected position critical anthropological and archeological work in an approachable, forward-looking, wing-nutty package.
The project is being exhibited at London's Furtherfield Gallery, with limited chances to see the SEFT-1 craft itself. Opening today, the exhibition is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am–6pm, through July 27.