The Missing Passenger is a new exhibition trail from artist and director Geraldine Pilgrim set in the atmospheric Station Hall of the National Railway Museum in York. Conjuring up images from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction with her renowned attention to period detail, Geraldine Pilgrim uses the Museum’s vintage railway carriages and original station platforms to set the scene for this most curious of whodunits. I caught up with Geraldine for a quick chat about the trail…
Would you tell us a little about your previous work?
I’m a site-specific artist who works in buildings or landscapes that are usually empty, creating installations or performances, and my aim is always to acknowledge the spaces and bring them back to life before they change, or encourage people to look at them in a new way.
What is The Missing Passenger?
The Missing Passenger is a brand new exhibition trail, located at the National Railway Museum in York. It’s quite difficult to define as it’s very unusual. It’s what we call a ‘site-specific exhibition trail’. What that means is that visitors will be able to follow a route that’s marked out on the back of a booklet that they receive. It’s very specific to two platforms in the museum – Platform 5 and Platform 6 in the Station Hall – on which there are two trains from the 1930s which are very beautiful. Inside, you can see installations, clues and photographs and there are two carriages that you can actually go into. The reason why The Missing Passenger is an exhibition is that there are no actual actors involved with the trail. There are no live performers whom you can interact with (which is very fashionable at the moment). You follow the trail in your own time, and we reckon it will take about 40 minutes to complete. What the trail does is give you a series of clues, and you can actually explore and make discoveries in your own way about who you think murdered Edward Robey.
What did you find most challenging about creating The Missing Passenger?
We had to create a story, a narrative, that people would actually engage with. For me, that’s the most important thing and, as there weren’t going to be any performers in The Missing Passenger, it was very important to me that visitors did actually feel some attachment to the characters and suspects. So, although there aren’t any live performers involved, we organised a photoshoot with volunteers from the museum and other areas of York, who dressed up in costumes from the 1930s, and we created clues like film stills that are embedded in the carriage windows so that visitors can actually identify with the characters that they’re reading about.
And what did you enjoy most about creating The Missing Passenger?
I love the National Railway Museum. It’s a most brilliant space. It’s so evocative about journeys and it’s a really beautiful museum. They don’t just have trains there, which are really stunning, but they also have a ‘warehouse’ where there are hundreds of objects from the past, the present and hopefully the future that are linked with railways, so you can really get involved with what you see.
Is The Missing Passenger suitable for all ages?
‘The Missing Passenger isn’t just an activity for children. That’s very important. This trail is not designed specifically for children but I don’t personally think that there’s any problem about a child seeing it at all. With the videos they see and the books they read, and you think of Bambi and the death of Bambi’s mother, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a child actually discovering who the murderer was in a crime mystery, so I think it’s very suitable for children.
Why do you think we have such an enduring fascination with solving murder mysteries and whodunnits?
I think that, in these troubled times that we live in, we like to know that there is actually a resolution to something, and that we are in charge of actually thinking about what’s happening and what problems we’re currently facing. This basic human desire is reflected in whodunnits, where we weigh up the evidence before deciding who’s responsible. I think it enables us to feel in more control of what’s going on in our lives generally.
Any projects in the pipeline?
I’ve got a couple of projects coming up which I’m very excited about. One is, I’ve been commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre to spend the night in one of their site-specific rooms at their Arts Centre. They’ve invited artists to come and stay overnight and actually talk to camera about what keeps them awake at night, so you’re actually using the camera as a confidante. I’m really excited about that, so that’s what next for me.
What would you say to someone who’s considering coming along to the National Railway Museum to take part in The Missing Passenger?
Definitely go. It’s a really enjoyable experience. You actually get to see the insides of the trains from the platform in a way that perhaps you haven’t been able to before so, even if you’ve visited the museum before, it’s worth coming again. We’ve also built a waiting room in the Goods Yard, so you can actually end your trail with your booklet, sitting on beautiful green leather railway benches in a 1930s waiting room environment, actually deciding who it is who you think killed Edward Robey, the 1930s theatre agent.
The Missing Passenger, an interactive whodunit, will continue at the National Railway Station, Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ until Monday 3rd September 2017. The self-guided tours are free, available from 10-5pm, and last 35-40 minutes. No booking required.