Recently I went to the Art in General artist talk at Sara Meltzer Gallery of Eteam's project "Montello International Airport." I had briefly looked at Eteam's website before I went, and saw a photo from the project of the rolling stairs used for boarding aircraft, in the middle of the mountains with passengers waiting on it. I read that they were trying to construct an International Airport in Montello, Nevada, and started to get all kinds of crazy ideas in my head... was this was a huge performance piece? What kind of people from the community were involved? How did they explain the piece? The daily life of this project seemed immense, the kind of huge scope in conceptual art that puts it back on the map. If film can be described as a nearly pure artform combining sound, sight and time, then this type of conceptual art is the only other thing more complete in experience.
This is exactly the kind of project I knew I would love. Interacting with real people, real space, subverting a town, for art. This airport itself was inherently funny, full of failure. This was set up to be an impossible task, a dauntingly immense disappontment, but at the same time the attempt would end up anything but a failure. I almost felt that I didn't need to go see the talk, that this was one of those experiences you end up talking about, the real piece couldn't be as good as what I'd hoped it to be. By the time I had walked over to Chelsea, I had told three people about the project and could sum it up in a sentence: 'They bought some land on ebay and are building an international airport in the middle of nowhere.'
Of course, the response was always 'why?'.
It became clear in describing their work that Eteam was interested in the perpetual activity of an airport, the continuous flux of people arriving and leaving, everthing in a state of readiness and expectation. It is also about the possibility of transformation. What effects would the drastic change of an international airport have on a small town in Nevada? Not only would the physical environment be changed by the idea of an airport, but even more so the people. In many ways, that was so great about this project: it didn't take much. Some pavement, a prop or two, and this patch of land instantly became an airport for everyone involved.
The Eteam is Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger. They started out showing photos of some of the local residents who were employed at the International airport. An image of the baggage handler, pushing suitcases through the gravel with a makeshift shopping cart. An airport church complete with a reverend preaching at a boombox pulpit. The airport 'lounge', a couple of chairs, some styrofoam coffee cups and giant metal canisters of juan valdez. Mothers with their children sitting on top of suitcases in the parking lot. These characters were blown up into life size cutouts, which populated the space.
Airports are also places of waiting, and the flight had been delayed to the Montello International Airport, so the artists asked everyone present for the talk to stay and be a part of a brief video of people waiting to get on the flight. The gallery was then transformed into a waiting room where the audience grabbed fast food, magazines and luggage to act the part.
In creating and videotaping a waiting room in NY, we were playing our part for Montello, so in turn they would continue on working. It has become a completely real airport. It starts with just an idea, but with each small action and documentation, another layer is added to the reality, to the point it doesn't matter anymore who started the chain of events that led to this airport's existence. I think the airport will live on beyond the art, and it's already changing ideas of the community, all by conjuring up an institution by willing it into being. The biggest success would be to have this airport in Montello actually function, to have a plane appear in the distance and actually touch down on the crumbling runway.
In fact Art in General, as part of the sale of the work, is chartering a flight to Montello Airport early September of this year. The $5500 price tag includes a C-Print and a 20 hour layover in Montello, where a deserted stretch of blacktop will transform completely into an airport. The real problem now is that it may never go back.
All images are courtesy of Eteam, Art In General, and Sara Meltzer gallery.