art and public transport, public art and transport: flying.

airplane image by aaron kraten (awesome artist) stolen from his flickr set.

Following on from the discussions on art and transport i posted about here, i’ve been doing some investigating into the role of art and transport together. my current flavour of the month centres around airports.

i spent a lot of time in airports as a kid – i was an ID90 kid. that’s jargon for the child of an airline staff member. so it stands to reason that i have a fascination with airports and airplanes as public spaces and forms of transport.

The airport is a particular kind of public space: unlike loads of other transport hubs, it’s not entirely democratic, given that you have to pay a huge sum in order to facilitate being there. and for most of the space, you have to go through security searches. and that’s just the passenger terminals. it also contains huge sections of open, but incredibly restricted space: tarmac, hangars and runways.

but similar to other axes of transportation, it’s incredibly dynamic and diverse. and, depending on the airport, the sheer number of people passing through the space is unlike any other.

And yet, for all the coming and going, to-ing and fro-ing, there are also large numbers of people waiting around, trying to get comfortable, hungry, tired, bored, anxious, excited and joyous. and, like in the film Love Actually, airports are areas for expression of pure love. unlike most other public spaces connected to transport.

So, in terms of a marriage between airports and art, architecture and design, it’s a hell of a brief:

Make a site that’s got to have room for 500 people getting off a long-haul flight; space to run full-pelt towards your flight that’s about to close [but not so much that you scare the living daylights out of post-9/11 jittery security staff]. But it’s also got to have a cosy space to be able to curl up with a book while you’re waiting 3 hours for a connection, or for your loved one whose flight has been delayed.

Aesthetically, it has to appear clean, calm, safe and orderly to allay fears post 9/11 and also for those 80% of passengers who are afraid of flying, but at the same time, has to leave enough emotional space to accommodate the inevitable tears from hellos and goodbyes.

You need to do the basics in terms of logistics: cars, luggage, public transport, check-in, security and the official stuff. And of course, in terms of planning and business strategy, there have to be places to be basically human: food, water, toilets, prayer and entertainment.

And, naturally, flying changed dramatically after 9/11. Interestingly, though, I’ve noticed that, as a result, more care, thought and pointed strategy has gone into airports and airplanes since. Perhaps it’s because the airline industry stopped taking flying for granted and started to look at the benefits of flying and how to improve the experience of it. Or perhaps it’s always been like this, and i’m just noticing it now for the first time.

And seeing as I am noticing it, the whole world seems to be conspiring with me too!

Ben‘s been posting about his opinion of Heathrow’s new T5 and its new interactive signage and infographics; Design Quarterly has done a bit of a feature on Marc Newsom‘s design of the Qantas Lounge at Sydney Airport (above), and I picked up a cheap copy of last month’s Monocle mag, which was focusing on trains, but raised some of the same points about the experience of train travel vs air travel.

Then, over Easter, I went to Adelaide [boy has that airport changed in the last few years!] and I got to experience an airport that had obviously had a good long think about how to lay out the space, how to engage people, give them a good experience, while rushing them along to their planes. I took pictures even (and didn’t get arrested, which was nice). They even had art works on the walls and a showcase of maqettes from the JamFactory Furniture Design Studio.

Which reminded me about the secret desire I’ve had to open up a gallery in an airport. With all that amazing space, people looking for mental and visual stimulation, tourists looking to experience an essence of a place (and take some of that away with them), what better place to start an interesting art space. Or some site-specific projects.

And speaking of site-specific projets, one of my other secret desires has been to create an installation/experiential artwork within the interior of the plane. not to really freak anyone out, but to add a sense of play to the space which isn’t really there at the moment (aside from the chipper staff on Virgin flights). Does essential plane travel still have to be glum?

Having had that playing on my mind, it was with glee that I listened to a fabulous interview by The Architects on 3RRR featuring with Frederique Houssard-Andrieux, a designer who is working specifically with the interior of airplanes. I already love this woman! and one day would love to work with her – she spoke about colour use within the confined space of the cabin with real depth and understanding. and she’s looking to push the boundaries of what the fitouts of fleets will look like and feel like. unlike car upholstering, designing the interior of a passenger airplane (especially the long-haul jumbos she’s working on) really have to take into account the psychology and feelings of the passengers. and how there’s a whole range of pretty intense emotions that could feature in a flight, which need to be addressed in the design [and i suspect some of the fantastic primary school designers are probably tackling similar issues.]

Having said all that, airplanes and airports have always been aesthetically rich, thanks the need to try and make [expensive] air travel sexy and attractive. but since it has become mainstream and then back towards an environmental anathema, i think there is going to be a renaissance of design and interaction with this form of public transport. Which I have to confess, I’m a little bit excited about.

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CERES final works

Yesterday was the final day of the CERES site-specific project and over the week, I’ve managed to produced 3 works. No huge works, but certainly focused works.

I wanted to do a range of smaller pieces, that responded to the site in different ways and expanded my experience of the place and of working in a permissible space.

The first work, the one which I wrote about here, Burn, didn’t have the outcome I expected, which is I guess is an occupational hazard of doing body works, but it was a process that was definitely successful.

On the second day of trying to get the imprint of the Merri Creek in my arm, some interesting aspects of the process happened. In criss-crossing the site with my arm outstretched into the sun, it was like my arm, and the creek were mapping the site, almost in a psychogeographical way. I got some interesting reactions to the sight of an exposed arm, with red texta and sunscreen slathered up it (which looked like a major cut or burn in itself). Some teenage schoolboys just stopped and stared, god bless em; the women from the market gardens asked me what was happening and nodded with interest and/or puzzlement. And Tim from the café, who had been making my coffees thought I had slashed myself. But was interested in the idea after I told him about what was really going on. In fact he called it my creek ‘tattoo’, which I thought was helpful insight.


Stock was a very quick-response work: stenciled $ symbols on an existing woodpile. This was the more pointed political work (let’s face it, anytime you use a monetary symbol, it’s political, right?): creating a ‘stockpile’, a pile of valuable material – valuable in terms of cut wood, the natural material as a valuable resource and something to think about in terms of burning ‘money’.

Fireflies: Luciferase acts on luciferin

After years of wanting to do a work with LED throwies, I knew that I was going to end up doing a light work here. Being a nature-based urban space, the magnetic aspect of the throwie wasn’t going to happen, but I’ve adapted it to the space and finances that I had access to. Initially set for the new nursery section, I was hoping for a veritable swarm of lights [I bought 100 LEDs!] But I couldn’t find an affordable option for that many 3V batteries, so I ended up having to downscale and re-work slightly.

The work is currently hanging out over the merri creek, near the fence to CERES and resembles a small buzz of fireflies, who are the natural model for efficient lighting. In-situ, at night, the works also seem to plot a space of sorts – like points on a 3 dimensional plan-of-sorts.

Unfortunately, the camera I have just wasn’t able to pick up the subtlety of the image, so all I have is that blackness you can see (which shows up how dirty my screen really is). Hopefully I’ll have some imagery from another student next week. If not, another documentation bites the dust. Dammit.

I’m having a holiday for a few days. Time to sleep, eat, sleep, watch tv, sleep. I’ll be back on board next week sometime.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

CERES environment park

this week we’re stationed at CERES environmental park. read about them here.

our involvement is a short-turnaround project, where we can create some site-specific works in a place that focuses on community, sustainability and environmental education.

today, while everyone else was measuring up and doing site analyses, i was starting my first work: burning the track of the merri creek into my arm. i’m not quite sure if it’s going to work out how i’d like it to but it has been an interesting foray into body work so far.

loads of artists do work relating to body. [i’ve been thinking about mike parr and stellarc (the two aussie kings of body work) and a little bit of todd mcmillan and his 24 hour endurance work overlooking the ocean]. i’m definitely not one of those artists, but seeing as the role of the audience and ‘people’ in public art has been highlighted in the last week (especially in light of no people engaging in artworks at docklands), i thought i would investigate the idea of personal in public.

my plan was to ‘burn’ the merri creek into my arm, creating the track of its course with sunscreen into the underside of my forearm (isn’t there just one word for that in english? i’m sure there would be in german!). having mostly worked with red throughout my practice, it plays on that colour. but more importantly, merri creek is a significant wurundjeri site and turning red/getting burnt also highlights that i’m not native to this site – an invader of sorts: that my physiognomy is not designed to deal with the conditions of the site.

interestingly, despite putting my arm in full-sun for 20 minutes all up, i’ve not gone the shade of red that I would have liked so far. there was an initial reaction – a slight burning and a bit of colour, but now it’s just regular, pasty-ish skin.

which throws up questions of skin sensitivity and whether you burn more when you’ve never been exposed to the sun (the preconception that i had), or in fact, the more you subject yourself to sun, the worse you burn.

i’ll get out there again tomorrow and if it still doesn’t go flaming red, then i’ll leave it as an interesting process with a not-so-interesting outcome. stay tuned.

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art in the public space lectures

today was a full day of good infostuff. the presentation by anthony mcinnerny about public art in the suburbs and its place there was excellent and highlighted the stereotypes of suburbia, looked at the shopping mall as a interesting public/private place and discussed artistic engagement on freeways. all fascinating.

but the highlight of the day was the discussion about art and public transport. talk about a fucking minefield of discussion! and of course, i was quiet and didn’t utter a word.

topics covered included:

artists’ engagement in developing the system of transport, through design and lateral thinking, as opposed to just adorning or beautifying a failing infrastructure.

stations as community hubs – which seemed pretty obvious to me, especially after time spent in germany and austria, where of course they’ve embraced their hauptbahnof and you can shop, eat, sleep, drink coffee, surf the web, store your shit, everything there. also discussion about the roles of libraries in stations as a way to implant stations within ordinary social fabric.

• heated discussion about graffiti as art and the money spent removing graffiti. some crazy broad suggested leaving the graffiti on the lines for a year, fostering it and seeing what happens when you allow the graffiti artists’ subculture to self-govern, given that writers have an inbuilt learning process and skill-set heirarchy that is rarely tapped into.

• looking at the role of performance and new media works within transport systems. the grand central station (and possibly flinders st station) freeze as an example, as well as the other end of the spectrum, where you fuck people’s shit up – make it totally unbearable to watch the flow-on effect from that.

• how a distorted art, in the form of muzak, is being used to punish citizens as a result of drug dealing around Frankston station and the idea of resulting alientation from public ‘ownership’ of such a space.

• looking at the misconceptions and preconceptions of convenience within a car-centric culture and whether art has a place in re-educating, or whether other aspects of transport need fixing first.

‘anti-social’ versus ‘socially acceptable’ imagery (ie, graffiti, vs paid advertising) and how the use of public space and infrastructure is privileged by consumerism and revenue, rather than by public consensus or common good.

plus some other juicy and faskinating points that i can’t remember right now. it was a really vital discussion and considering that, in victoria, the transport minister and the arts minister are one and the same, it will (hopefully) be an area in which there is far more discussion and development. god knows that melbourne needs some serious surgery in this area.

for a super-fab article on public transport infrastructure in australia, also check out dan hill’s shinkansen piece. brilliant.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

art in the public space lectures

today was a mega day and i’m pretty close to catatonic, but i thought i would just put up a few little notes:

beatriz maturana – urban designer

started off with an interesting discussion about the urbane, urban design and its theories and contradictions. considering that conversing with urban space and the design of that urbanity is going to be a huge chuck of what it means to be practicing in the public space, this lecture could have been broken up into two separate ones. in fact, i would have been quite taken with a whole dicussion about pavements/footpaths as signifiers – both aesthetically and then in terms of wayfinding. but hey.

other things i got:

elements of the city:

from richard sennett:

design considerations:

robustness (which interestingly she discussed as a further process to flexibility of cities, an idea that mr hill mentioned)
personalisation (appropriation – different to appropriateness)

[and 3 others which i wrote down but left the trusty moleskine at uni]

open space
usually the absense of a building in the shape of a city block or other shape within the system of the city (court or circus), but something like fed square is completely different again. most were in consensus that FedSq could have been bad, but is now actually quite a good example of public open space.

cut short a discussion on what a good urban space is. and of course i had to tell everyone about the group that dan and russell set up: ‘best urban spaces’ flickr pool.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

art in the public space lectures

after lunch today, andrew reeves, historian and chief of staff to senator kim carr came and spoke to us about the history of public art in melbourne. he has a specific interest in the art associated with the trade union movements, which is interesting seeing as i mentioned the 888 monument here, and that it’s labour day on monday. but he spoke to us about a wide range of topics related to public art and history.

other aspects of his discussion:

• 8-hour day march banners – beautifully painted with allegorical history painting of inspiration and virtue on one side, and social realism of the breadth of the union’s trade on the other. initially in silk, but the south-easterly up collins street quickly took care of that. painted canvas: painted by union members. up in smoke.

• exhibition buildings as evidence of early public art forms in melbourne – dating from 1889. debate about the worth of the building ensued – more a puffed-out chest showing of intellect from student than relevant discussion [imho].

• liebskind’s holocaust museum extension to berlin museum: best use of building as public art ever. leads the visitor from old berlin museum (german mansion) into dark tunnel, up a significant number of steps, to the exhibits. education through an experience relative to those suffered by the jewish in concentration camps. and that’s not just because it’s a holocaust museum, as there are many holocaust museums around the world and only liebskind’s does that.

• other historical public art to check out, following the old march route from trades hall, down swanston, up collins to parliament then spring to exhibition buildings:

newspaper house, collins st – frescoes
mural paintings of geoff hogg on lygon st, north of the cemetary
t&g buliding russell and collins (old foyer)
melbourne club. kind of.
windsor hotel
pediment ofathenaeum theatre
town hall, stained glass: best example of non-religious glass in australia (as well as leonard french’s ceiling at the NGV)
drummond st: greek and roman gods, plus the portrait of zeus where you wouldn’t expect it.
parliament house
villa alba in kew – being restored in order to re-present private-ish collection to the public. a little like the wallace collection, methinks.

• museums and galleries are the prime institutions to commission and engage public art, but are lost opportunities: case in point, windswept wasteland between melbourne museum and exhibition buildings.

• public art can provide a sense of humanity to large areas dwarved or vacated by buildings “abominations”. it’s imperative in the age of intervention/extension/cover-up of architectural mistakes.

“public art survives in the most random of ways.”

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx