Text by Adam Scovell
Transport, documentation and technology are sat at the centre of Los Ferronautas’ latest project, SEFT-1; a specifically created vehicle designed to explore railways and railroads left forgotten. While lost railroads may seem like an all together new realm once left to the ravages of nature, SEFT-1 is designed to document these new world clashes between the man-made and wild world that inevitably takes over when ignored. SEFT is an acronym meaning Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada, Spanish for Manned Railway Exploration Probe, instantly tying in a number of science fiction influences into a real-world device.
It’s interesting to consider exactly what part of the work will be its main attraction in artistic terms. Though very interesting visually, the device seems little more than a tool or even a canvas allowing the actual document of the journeys it undertakes to be centre stage. In that sense, despite its tool being extremely interesting to look at (and no doubt to witness, especially if unexpected on a nearby abandoned railway) Los Ferronautas’ work seems inherently about process. The expeditions are its process and the documents it can collect from this process are its work.
The change of scenery that SEFT-1 will have must surely effect that dramaturgy of the work. Its initial explorations have been largely in Mexico and Ecuador, with pictures showing the vehicle exploring what look to be whole abandoned worlds. What will SEFT-1 find on its journey through northern England? Its base is currently in Blackburn with talks of adjusting and modifying the vehicle for canals and waterways. However, Los Ferronautas, who consists of artists Andrés Padilla Domene and Iván Puig Domene, are not simply documenting new potential terrain but are chiefly putting on pop-up displays, screenings and talks; further adding to the idea that the end product is about the process.
Though its somewhat difficult to imagine SEFT-1 finding epic vistas here that match its Ecuadorian escapades, other-worldly spectacle isn’t all that the project is concerned with. The forgotten nature of places once dominated by people and their technology seem to be its main draw and the north-west of England is ripe with industrial graveyards now taken as visual future utopias. Looking at pictures of the vehicle at work, it can’t help but evoke the journey that the three travellers take in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979).
In the film, three men journey into an area known as The Zone which is full of remnants of civilisation but which also houses a room where one’s greatest dreams can be realised. The travellers enter The Zone on an abandoned, overgrown railway using a vehicle not dissimilar to SEFT-1. Whether SEFT-1 will find any Zones in England is debatable but what it can document are the spaces readily forgotten as technology and time move on; spaces that also eerily show that the world continues to turn and grow even after civilisation leaves for more grey and concrete pastures.