Nuit Blanche art installation shines light on train track

Richard Mongiat and Jeff Winch don’t normally use their art for political statements.

But the thought of 400 more diesel trains running behind their homes moved them to do just that.

Rail of Light was a collaborative project between the two Junction artists for Nuit Blanche. They displayed their artwork over top of and next to the GO Transit Georgetown rail line that runs northwest from Union Station.

The rail corridor is a part of Metrolinx’s proposed expansion and thereby increases diesel train traffic through the adjoining neighbourhoods. The project would allow for trains to and from Toronto’s Pearson Airport as well as increasing existing service.

Winch is concerned. After industry had, for the most part, moved out of his neighbourhood, news about increased train traffic inspired his participation.

“We turn around and discover we’re going to be re-polluted again by this really huge increase in diesel train traffic along the corridor,” he said. “So that’s what sort of provoked me, put the issue in my mind and just got me thinking about it and making work about it.”

Winch is making a documentary about the rail expansion project focusing on health concerns and the history of the Junction Triangle, his neighbourhood that is bordered by three rail lines. He produced a film specific for Nuit Blanche that included excerpts from the documentary.

As residents ate popcorn and watched the short film projected below the Wallace Avenue pedestrian bridge north of Bloor Street West, Mongiat’s installation glowed overhead.

“I thought I could use the structure of the bridge to create these silhouettes of chandeliers, using Christmas lights. Dealing with everything in an electric way,” he said. “And that would be the kind of thing that would draw the moths to the flame.”

Mongiat’s piece also included amplified recordings of electric trains passing by every three minutes, simulating a quieter alternative to diesel locomotives.

Mongiat and Winch met as members of DIGIN, a local community group committed to vitalization in their area. The Junction Triangle Rail Committee, a residents group advocating for electrification of the rail line, approached them to take part in Nuit Blanche. Both artists were happy to participate. Mongiat enjoys engaging in local initiatives.

“Although my art practice doesn’t deal with political issues, I like to do things in the neighbourhood that may have some affect. To bring issues to light, to help change the neighbourhood,” he said.

Mongiat along with members from DIGIN and the Junction Triangle Rail Committee attended a meeting with Metrolinx, earlier this year, to advocate for electrification.

“We had met with Metrolinx. We had spoken to them about our concerns and tried to make it very clear to them that we’re surrounded by three rail lines. You guys only talk about the Georgetown rail line,” he said. “We want people to understand that this is a cumulative thing and we’re going to right in the middle of the worst part of it.”

Metrolinx released a draft of their Electrification Study: Network Option Evaluation Report on Sept. 22. It examines future diesel alternatives or technology enhancements for the entire GO transit rail system. The province will decide on a course of action for the Georgetown expansion after the report is completed in December.