Victorian engineering & ambition in augmented reality

About ‘Pioneer’

Pioneer is an ambitious, outdoor, augmented reality artwork which explores urgent contemporary themes around innovation, hubris and technology elitism through a reflection on Victorian engineering. The work juxtaposes Victorian engineer Magnus Volk’s unique seagoing electric train on stilts called ‘Pioneer’ that was affectionately referred to as ‘Daddy Long Legs’ (1896-1901) in Brighton to contemporary mobile technologies such as augmented reality, 5G and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network.

To experience the artwork you are required to download onto your smartphones the latest free ‘Apparitions’ app for Android & Apple phones. When you point it out to sea each of the audience using The AR app will see Pioneer and hear its ethereal soundscape as it will be ‘geo-tagged’ to the original location of the Pioneer’s steel rails. Embedded in the rock pools this ran seem 2 miles from Kemp town’s Paston Place (Banjo groyne) to Rottingdean. Vintage style printed postcards will also be produced allowing the experience to be triggered off-site. 

Launching in November 2021 in the first weekend of Brighton Digital Festival the artwork will extend through an extensive events programme across England with Birmingham Open Media, Virtual Futures, the Computer Arts Society and workshops at Central St Martins between 2021 and October 2022


The Victorians experienced rapid acceleration in their age such as telephony, domestic electricity and steam trains giving much faster travel experiences. In 1896 an electrified ambitious sea-faring train on stilts named ‘Pioneer’ was designed by local Brighton engineer Magnus Volks . . maybe this was not so different to contemporary far-reaching travel achieved by Elon Musk & SpaceX, and the Branson, Bezos race to the edge of space.

In 1892 with the Electric Railway comfortably installed as far as Paston Place Magnus Volks cast his eyes towards Rottingdean. To extend the existing railway the three miles would entail either a steep climb to take it along the cliff top or a man-made viaduct along the unstable undercliff. Undeterred he planned the building of a completely new railway that would ‘travel through the sea’.

To provide power to the car a series of trolley standards were set on the land side of the track supporting the trolley wire 21ft above the spring tide level.

I am excited by how the effects of augmented reality can conjour up again lost inventions, in a way to celebrate and enjoy these significant long-gone historic achievements. Other examples in the UK of bygone Victorian transport engineering are Crystal Palace’s ‘Atmospheric’ railway and the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

Pioneer embodies the futuristic from 1896 and the fantastic, an ambitious and fragile touristic mode of travel that avoided the unpleasant ‘mal-de-mer’ sickness of being at sea in a boat. The train ran on tracks cemented into the rock pools.

A similar system was already in operation across St. Malo harbour in Brittany but this was pulled along the rails by chain rather than being self-propelled, and ran through sheltered water not the English Channel.


Brighton Digital Festival

Meet the artist and experience the first tour of the Pioneer from Brighton pier, the Volks museum on Saturday 6th November. Walking along to Kemptown the apparition of Pioneer will be present when looking to sea with smartphones using the new app.

Geotagged & Postcard

As well as geo-tagged to the original tracks remnants that are partially visible in low tide, triggered when walking along the promenade level, the experience will have a special postcard marker for people to access outside of Brighton.

London & Birmingham

An exhibition with artist talk is planned in Ugly Duck, Tanner st London for early December. And in spring the artist will deliver engagements in Birmingham’s BOM, as well as online streams of previous talks.


+44 7973 286 094

St Leonards, East Sussex

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