Why choose a train for a transcontinental journey in the age of cheap air travel, transatlantic and transeurasian crossings, and super-high-speed highways? Is there more to it than mere means of transportation, still breathing the fumes of industrial progress, or is it just a bothersome vehicle, steeped in romanticized notions of fleeting encounters and adventures?
Train carries not only passengers but also a multitude of ideas and meanings. The mythical, futurist steam engines that inspired writers like Zola, Verne or Tolstoy and provided the basis for thought-experiments on relativity also connected long-fallen empires and continents, giving humanity its first taste of automated acceleration and the possibility of long-distance travel.
The needle that sewed the path from the Silk Road to the Alps, a time capsule that preserves ancient habits, a relic from the industrial age – what might it mean for contemporary artists from two distinctly different, geographically and culturally, parts of the world?
We use the train as both a tool and a location – a third space, a platform not only for exchange but also for artistic research and interventions. It offers the possibility of exploring the passage through space, borders, time, and contexts equally well as it is itself an object of inquiry. The travelers faced challenges due to the limitations of both physical and personal space, having to adapt to a pre-given rhythm and numerous encounters. By traversing the space between the two countries, QWAS participants were invited to contextualize their own artistic perspectives on research topics such as migration, nomadism, mobility, identity politics, distance, mapping, borders, languages and other means of communication, experience of time and space, experiments and utopias. The train journey provided the setting for an experimental exploration of these topics.
QWAS: Migrating Dialogue is a transcultural collaboration between Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK) in Zurich, Switzerland and Eurasian Cultural Alliance (ECA) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Following a week-long workshop in Zurich, artists boarded a train heading to Berlin. After nine days with various stopovers (in Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and Turkestan, among others) and numerous adventures, they finally arrived in Almaty. Whilst crossing various time zones, borders, language barriers, cultures, and habits, the artists spoke to passengers from diverse backgrounds, recorded soundscapes, set up artistic interventions, and staged performances, all the while documenting their experience.