Alec Spangler
The Longest Shortcut: The Trans-Siberian Railway and the Representation of Unimaginable Extent, 2011

In late August 2011 I rode the full length of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, with one stop in Irkutsk. The trip was meant to be an exploration of the possibilities and challenges involved in perceiving and representing extremely large territories, and was inspired by two precedents related to the Trans-Siberian line. The first is an 850 meter-long drawing depicting scenes from the new Trans-Siberian line around 1899. Recently restored by the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Great Siberian Route was presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition as part of a mechanized panorama, complete with staged rail cars and dining service. The second precendent is the recent partnership of Google Maps with Russian Railways to stream video shot through a train window of the entire journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, synching this with a navigable map interface. During my own trip, I made extensive notes and sketches, took a photographs, recorded sound, and conversed (imperfectly) with my fellow travelers. After returning I continued my research on the history and theory of mechanized perception and began planning an installation of my own that would embody my experience and ideas concerning the meaningful represention large spaces.

This project was made possible by the Penny White Traveling Fellowship awarded by the Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design.