“Today my favorite kind of atmosphere is the airport atmosphere,” wrote Andy Warhol in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). In the airport, the King of Pop could find “my favorite kind of food service, my favorite kind of bathrooms, my favorite peppermint Life Savers, my favorite kinds of entertainment, my favorite loudspeaker address systems, my favorite conveyor belts, my favorite graphics and colors, the best security checks, the best views, the best perfume shops, the best employees, and the best optimism.”
Optimism may have disappeared from airports in this age of terrorism, but the airport is still that strange in-between place where Warhol, who suffered from fear of flying, by the way, could be sure of finding the kind of banality and standardization that seemed to comfort him so much. The exhibition “Aéroports/Ville-Monde” at the Gaîté Lyrique celebrates the airport as a destination in itself, the “threshold of an invisible metropolis” with a flight of witty exhibits by a number of artists.
Visitors are given a boarding pass on arrival and must pass through those familiar crowd-control barriers (called “retractable belt stanchions,” I just learned). The difference is that the belts on this barrier, a work called “Untitled (Passage)” by Matthias Gommel, are
printed with the words to a 19th-century English sailors’ song, among them “The land is no longer in view, The clouds have begun to frown; But with a stout vessel and crew, We’ll say, Let the storm come down!” Perhaps not the most reassuring thing to read before boarding.
A darkened room nearby, a work called “Couloir Aérien,” by Cécile Babiole, simulates a runway; whenever a plane flies over the Gaîté Lyrique, visitors are engulfed in its roar in real time, and can check the actual flight information on a board.
The most amusing exhibit is “Physiognomic Scrutinizer,” by Marnix de Nijs. Visitors approach a realistic-looking security check (no need to remove belt and shoes), then pause
to have their photo taken. After passing through the turnstile, their photo is biometrically “scrutinized” and matched with that of a controversial personality. I was identified twice as avant-garde singer Diamanda Galás and once as porn star Traci Lords.
Another work that comments on the invasions of privacy we have come to accept as normal is “Psychoanalysis of the International Airport,” by Gwenola Wagon and Stéphane Degoutin. Through videos of performances in airports (e.g., stripteasers protesting against body scans, or “gate rape”) and a book, they catalogue the neuroses associated with flying and airports: “compulsive normality,” “death wish” (the urge to push the button that opens
the cockpit door during a flight), “autistic architecture” and so on.
Visitors can even take home a large poster of a digital visualization of all the airports in the world. After seeing this exhibition, they won’t necessarily feel comforted, but they will definitely look at the airport in a new light the next time they take to the air – or pay a visit just for the Warholian fun of it.Favorite