The centerpiece of Russell’s show is a slotcar racetrack, four lanes, with handmade racecars set to the conductive grooves (under the front of each car, there’s a keel-like tongue that fits the slotted groove, bracketed by two brushy extrusions of copper, like a slightly frayed galvanic mustache).
The track, in its broad loops, takes up most of the gallery space. The racers, even the youngest ones, tower over the tracks, enthusiastic colossi. There was a solid contingent of kids at the reception, bogarting the cars.
There’s a kind of zen to the vicarious drive. The trick is not to overspeed the curves: the contact between copper mustache and arcing strip is easily thrown by centrifugal force, the car then stalling at an awkward angle, followed by calls across the racetrack for adjustment and repair. Then the hands of the colossi reach down, intervening in the fates of the cars, setting them back on their way.
I ended up focusing not on the whole race but on my particular groove or curve, the other racers forming a kind of peripheral distraction, feeling a slight anxious hitch in concentration during the blackout turns where I couldn’t see my car.
Here are some wooden molds for the cars.
The Silverland Gallery is located at St. Mary’s Art Center. It had been a hospital, mainly servicing injured miners. Now it hosts art workshops and retreats. It has a wonderful Victorian atmosphere, and its current furniture accomodates both church pews and castoff plush chairs from casinos.
Any building with that much illness and death in its history is bound to accumulate ghost stories. Kath informed me that some ghost hunting show had filmed in the building a few weeks before. She was told, by the caretaker of the building, that there have been sightings on the road out of town, of a man with an overcoat and hat. He lurches into the road, and people jump the brakes, certain they’ve hit him: when they get out of the car, there’s no sign of anyone. She wasn’t looking forward to the drive home. When she got into her car and turned the key in the ignition, her front and rear wipers sprung into action, though she swears she left them off.
Out beyond the front porch, you could see Virginia City’s mountainside illuminated “V” — foreshortened, it looked less less like a letter and more like a pipe, a garish homage to Magritte.
Sometime after midnight, on the porch, Russell mentioned that the only way he’d been able to interface with the history of the building — the suffering and death that had transpired between the walls — was through a sort of play. The attention you pay to your track, your route, winnowing out all other distractions, is related to the kind of selfishness that takes over when you’re suffering towards death. Russell didn’t use the word “selfish” in an accusatory way — just as a measure of fact. The way the pinioned mind focuses on bodily particulars, and the insistent silhouettte of mortality, undeterred and finally undeferrable.
Some stayed overnight. The Art Center was a small communal arc for a night, afloat above the abandoned mines of Virginia City. I had no ghosts to report, though Kristin was creeped out by the print of a clown that was hanging in our room – he had the kind of eyes that seem to follow you. But thankfully his eyes went out with the lights.
I got a look at the saddest room of the upstairs: the still-barred window, the bedframe like bars themselves, a harsh rectangle meant to delimit the sleeping posture of a “lunatic” (or as the plaque by the front door more gently put it, the “mentally disturbed”). Some play had gone on, just down the hall, but the proximity to the bars made it not quite a joke. Or at least not an excusively jolly one.