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Storytelling in model railway world
Co-creators of I Think I Can interactive model railway Martyn Coutts, left, and Sam Routledge. Picture: Megan Powell/The West Australian

Most adults of a certain age remember the tale of The Little Engine That Could with its, "I think I can, I think I can", refrain.

This optimism has inspired Hobart puppeteer Sam Routledge and media artist Martyn Coutts to develop the all-ages interactive installation I Think I Can at the WA Museum for the Perth International Arts Festival.

It is a collision between "old-school" amusement - small-scale puppetry and model railways - and new-age digital technology - iPads and LED screens.

The museum's historic Hackett Hall has been given over to a large model railway layout.

After an iPad personality test, an "avatar" puppet is created for each visitor to get involved in a miniature community, interact with others, tell their own story and respond to events as they unfold.

"When people see the model railway layout they really focus their attention on this tiny little world," Routledge said.

"We have a lot of families participating together and it becomes this optimistic task of creative and collective storytelling.

"They can start to think, 'Well, if I was the president of this town, if I was Santa, if I was the Queen, or a doctor, what would I do in this town? Where could I be useful'?"

Routledge and Coutts paired with the Fremantle and Districts Model Railway Association to create the 8m by 3m model layout. Above it is a 2m wide LED screen that magnifies the tiny avatars.

"A lot of model railway enthusiasts don't think what they do is especially artistic or creative, but I Think I Can proves that they can be," Routledge said.

He said the work appealed to children as young as five but was best for children eight or older.

The tiny town has an online newspaper with breaking stories filed by a resident blogger and the work aimed to explore the beauty and creativity of model railways.

Miniature train mania seems to have spread in PIAF with the Paramodelic and The Tenth Sentiment, two exhibitions by Japanese artists at John Curtin Gallery, also incorporating model trains or plastic tracks.

The West Australian

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