Bo Schmit – Sweet Nothings (watch me make beautiful love to the railroad)
Up March 2 – April 26
Closing reception – April 20 from 1-4pm
Sweet Nothings responds to the visual and auditory influence of the railroad by contrasting its rigid infrastructure and overbearing engine calls with hand-crafted material sensitivity and the celebratory aesthetic of vintage Americana-inspired flags. The top two flags mirror the repetitive red and white stripes of railway crossing guard arms. The bottom flag references the three humped design of Merchants Bridge, a rail truss bridge that connects St. Louis, MO to Venice, IL. The Terminal Railroad Association tracks that span Merchants Bridge are one of three major rail lines that bisect Niedringhaus Avenue on the edge of downtown Granite City. Whistle signals blown from engines traveling along these lines can be heard throughout town, including STNDRD’s site. When referring to train whistle signals, the standard symbols used are open circles (o) for short whistles and dashes (-) for long whistles. Along the rims of the buntings are beaded lines of the most commonly heard whistle signals in Granite City—an alternating pattern of confirmation, crossing approach, and warning calls.
There is a thriving community of train enthusiasts online who love Granite City. It is an exciting and aesthetically-rich time capsule thanks to the perseverance of many of its outdated or otherwise odd railway structures. In my first visits, I similarly fell in love with the delicate charm of these near-bygone sites: signage and signals spattered along winding tracks no longer in service, the ring of decades old crossing guard bells, and particularly the woven steel of Merchants Bridge’s rust-brown trusses over the glittering Mississippi River. Throughout 2023, I lived in downtown Granite City as an Artist in Residence with a local non-profit arts organization. During that time, I heard train calls in the early hours of the morning and in the dead of night. I learned the best commuter routes to avoid getting caught at crossings. I reversed, pulled U-turns, and jumped barriers to get out of the dreaded line of vehicles seemingly always stuck waiting for an immobile train on Edwardsville Road. As a temporary citizen, I got so used to the beast in my backyard that its initial beauty, which struck hard during my first few months in town, began to fade. In the odd moment where I would find myself sitting behind the paternal arm of a railway crossing guard, my attention and appreciation would reignite for as long as it took the hundred sum-odd railcars to pass me by.
The railroad has been romanticized in American culture and history as a figurehead of Westward Expansion. When it is celebrated, it is revered as a masculine presence that dominates the landscape: an iron horse. Sweet Nothings serves as a love letter—one that softens and sensualizes the lasting relics of the railroad. Reflecting the earnest passion of modern train enthusiasts’ while subverting rail history’s glorification of power and industry, these flags call local attention back to intentionally avoided or apathetically endured infrastructure. The flags are a valentine to the endearing objects of the railroad and their beaded patterns serve as a whispered response to engines’ daily bellows.
Bo Schmit is a queer sculptor from Salem, Missouri. His rural background and community affiliations of past and present shape his nostalgic and identity-based artistic practice. He received a BFA from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis in 2022 and currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri.