Fengyi Franklin Zhu’s Walking Down the L Train is a visual WebGL experiment exploring a morning commute on the L Train in New York City. This piece contradicts the average New Yorker’s commute. Instead of the visually engaging, relaxing, and spacious commute Zhu creates, New Yorkers continue to experience irritation and uncomfortable commutes. Extended delays and overcrowded trains are features that are omitted in Zhu’s fictional commute, to ensure a relaxing virtual experience. We practically live on top of each other, in cramped apartments, on the sidewalks, and on public transportation.
Zhu’s piece is fully immersive on a browser, as if the viewer is occupying a physical space. This virtual experience creates the idea of a commute, but by removing commuters, the grime, sounds, this fictional experience becomes enjoyable. Walking Down the L Train becomes a virtual reality, the same way I scroll through Instagram, Facebook, and search for new music on my commute, this piece allows us to escape the mundane and ugly aspects of subway travel.
I spent my shared time in the subway these past summers traveling from the East Village to Crown Heights. The times I stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers who didn’t feel so unfamiliar were moments I cursed not getting a Citibike. Walking down the L train is a daydream that I wish would come to life —an alternate reality where I could find silence, open seats, and not be distracted by advertisements that are trying too hard. The shaky nature of each car, and the shifts in colors and lights, has realistic correlations to a commute. The shifts in color throughout the piece led me to think about the diversity found in every subway cart. Even at the Wall Street stop when white men in black suits rush into the train, you can still relate to their faces amongst the throngs of people, standing shoulder to shoulder.
If riding trains were as visually stimulating as Zhu’s piece, the commute complains are sure to dissipate. Walking Down the L Train is a daydream for the grimy city.
Check out Walking Down the L Train here.
Nene Diallo is a senior at the University of Richmond studying Visual Media and Arts Practices, Arts Management, and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Art History. She spends hours watching Rick & Morty and snacks often.