John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Artists modified this train to include gruesome animal specimens, grass growing on the walls and a campsite lit by an electric sunset.
This past Saturday, a rather peculiar train slid onto the tracks of Chicago's Blue Line. Commuters peering into the cars caught glimpses of bizarre worlds: a campsite glowing in an artificial sunset, a verdant jungle with grass that climbed up the walls, a 19th-century curio closet populated by snarling animals' disembodied heads.
The surreal vehicle was the product of Tristan Hummel's "Art on Track" project, an annual effort by Chicago artists to give one train a makeover in the weirdest sense possible. Hummel and his friends kicked off the trackfest five years ago in frustration over (what they perceived to be) gallerists' reluctance to show emerging artists. The one-day, peripatetic exhibit has since found a niche in the city's popping arts scene. As Hummel explained this summer:
Chicago is one of the alternative space champions of the world. People here are showing work on the backs of bicycles, on boats, in apartments, empty store fronts, alleys, waterways, hotels, etc. [It works] without a formalized blue chip arts district like Chelsea, but with a significant base of art enthusiasts and buyers. There is a real attitude of do it yourself here. 'Art on Track' is just that, given a blank canvas (a train car) artists are challenged to create their own exhibition inside the overall exhibition.
For a $10 ticket, riders this year could stroll from car to car to soak in the meticulously crafted scenery of the Chicago Design Museum, CMYK Kittens, T.A.R.T., the House of Frog and other local art houses. Check out the gallery above for views inside the cars. And if you're wondering what those white-clad individuals with umbrellas are all about, it's a futuristic fashion show inspired by Mike Teavee's character in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Of course.