Editor's Note: In issue #46 of Big RED & Shiny, Jason Dean wrote a piece about the German collaborative eTeam and their "International Airport Montello" project. Since that piece, Dean has become a part of the project, and is working with eTeam to create the experience for patrons travelling to the airport.
Presented here is the first part of his travelogue.
I just got an email from Art In General with the subject 'International Airport Montello Layover Support Position Available'. Having gone to the lecture at Sara Meltzer Gallery, and looking at the Airport website at all of the different jobs people from Montello were 'working', I just assumed they were looking for another security guard or baggage handler for the airport, and that a new position had opened up at the airport itself, in Montello and I entertained the idea for a second, trying to figure out how it could work in NYC. If there was some way to do the job remotely... maybe I could be a telephone help desk operator or something... I could be the outsourced operator in Brooklyn... So I clicked on the link just to take a look. The email said eTeam was looking to fill a position from qualified applicants in New York. All I had to do was write a cover letter describing why I thought I would be qualified for the position, and they would contact applicants for an interview.
I had emailed Art In General, after the lecture, to see how much the chartered flight would be. I was curious, and thought maybe I could get some money together somehow or see if I could cover it as a writer for Big RED. Maybe they set aside standby seats or something.
It was pretty expensive and with limited edition artwork and an all expenses paid afterwords stay in Las Vegas, I had pretty much given up on my chances. Matt Nash (at Big RED) talked about maybe going down to the airport, whenever they were leaving and see them off. I might take pictures from the gate, or of the charter plane taking off, from Laguardia or JFK.
But then I got this new email. OK I'll give it a shot, I have to try. It's last minute, but maybe that will actually give me a better chance at going. I worked on writing the cover letter instead of working at my job, and replied back to the email the next day with references. But I still wasn't sure if this was a genuine attempt to hire someone. That term seemed to be being used pretty lightly (I'm sure) in terms of the airport. I tried to write a real serious attempt at letting them know I was truly interested in the experience, and could honestly help with last minute details, having worked in film, where we moved constantly, and worked with any number of people and problems in a given day. I thought I could play that up. That almost works perfectly in this situation. As soon as I hit send, I started thinking about the communal way the website was constructed, almost bloglike, journaling anyone and everyone's ideas and contributions. Was my cover letter ridiculous in that I was actually trying to get a job in my mind? Should I have been funnier, or have included more illustrations, talked about an obsession with rubberband airplanes, or the tiny replica of Montello I had built on the kitchen table? Maybe I was taking this too seriously, and wasn't the right candidate to spend a few days in the desert, working at an international airport.
Well, they'll contact me in a few days for an interview if they want.
The next day I got an email asking me to come in for an Interview. The tv show I was working on was practically finished, so I thought "I'll just tell my boss about this airport and how they are looking for staff. She knows about my own work and everything, of course she'll let me go, this is too amazing."
Art In General was pretty close to where the production office was, so I told them I can be over anytime. I was trying not to sound too eager, I wanted to be enthusiastic, but again the tone of the piece was a bit mysterious. I know there is a level of humour to this situation but it's taken very seriously. This is the kind of piece I always like thinking about and looking at and try to do in my own work.
I walked over and got in the elevator. Wait a minute... what am I interviewing for exactly... Should I be interviewing as a role, as if I was interviewing at an airport?
I couldn't think about it really at this point. I walked in and spoke with Anthony, the curatorial assistant at Art In General, he explained how the interview was going to go, and then eTeam asked for a few minutes, they needed a moment to set up a few cameras. This was something I hadn't thought about, this was another part of the work.
I walked in to two conference tables in the shape of a 'T'. I'm all the way at the bottom and at the other end were the eTeam and 3 other interviewers. On either side of me were life-size cutouts of residents from Montello to sit in on the interview, Nevada Red, and Computer Ed who I recognized from the website. All the cameras were rolling.
The panel started out asking me what I would do, what I envisioned happening, what my role should be. Could I cook? Well, loosely yes...oh barbeque? Sure no problem. Where was I from? I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, I think a lot like Montello. I could imagine life there, granted a little bit more of a desert, a little further away from everything. They asked me if I would mind wearing a jumpsuit. Not at all. (If they only saw my own work) Did I have experience with layovers personally? Once I was stuck at the airport in Rome for almost 24 hours just trying to kill time, making up games, talking with different people trapped there too, waiting for a cafeteria to open and finding a credit card with some money left to get something to eat.
What airplane movie did I like? Well Airplane! of course, but instead the only movie I could think of was Snakes On A Plane.
I called Matt (Nash, of Big RED) immediately to try to get my composure back, it might not be a complete failure after all, maybe there was some part of the interview we could salvage. I had to at least try to go right? Isn't that was this was about? I thought about this airport in the middle of nowhere since the gallery talk.
I got an email shortly after the interview about a gallery talk/trip to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, which was actually New York City's first airfield, for a barbeque and tour of the airfield by a historian/park ranger. I RSVPed as soon as I got the email. Even if I'm not hired, I'll be able to experience this project at an airport.
I got the job! I got an email back that said "Congratulations, ...." and I didn't even read the rest. I knew, somehow, I was going to Montello. I started emailing everyone 'I'm going to Nevada, to the internatgional airport'. I can't believe I'm actually going. I have no idea really what I'm getting into, I t kept hitting me the next week...I'll be in the middle of the desert in a week.
Immediately I had to do reserach. How hot was it going to be? But then again it gets cold at night right? How was I getting there exactly? Montello is quite a ways away from everything. How many people are in on the joke and what about people that didn't want to be a part of the project? I found a few real estate sites with photos of desert plots for sale, and a few pictures of the buildings in town. There's a bar, a post office, of course, and a motel. Apparently a pretty famous train heist happened near Montello in the 1800's: train robbers, after a wells fargo express car and whatever was inside, found themselves with a messenger who wouldn't give up so easy. After hours of fighting trying to get him out of the car, they gave up, and left with 10 dollars from the engineer.
Later that day Franzy contacted me saying that she had noticed I was going to Floyd Bennett Field, and maybe I wanted to be a signalperson? She attached a link to an FAA airport operations manual. I printed the signalman diagrams and practiced that night. I called my brother to get a helmet or protective headphones, just to have a few props. The weather is scheduled to be really horrible, thunderstorms and heavy wind all day.
A few hours later, the Floyd Bennett Field project was cancelled. Anthony from Art In General called and said due to weather, it wasn't going to be possible. This was followed by some emails from eTeam saying the whole thing would be rescheduled for sometime in the middle of october, and they were very disapointed. I was trying to talk myself into it all night, picturing running out from the bus, during breaks in rain to try to signal a plane taking off.
What was I going to wear in Nevada? Having seen the cutouts of people and eTeams preparation, I thought about baggage handlers and other airport personnel. How much was everyone playing along? Was this like the Renaissance Faire where I couldn't break character? Should I study more about airports, put in some time at JFK before my flight doing field research?
We exchanged a few more emails and I sent some links of what I thought they would want. Just the basic garage mechanic blue or grey jumpsuit. Of course, I could use another for my collection, for future projects. There's a Construction Supply Warehouse on the water in Williamsburg I think I can find what I'm looking for. I just hope they're still open, with as quick as the neighborhood is changing I'm not expecting a place like that to stick around forever.
The next step was to get together the weekend before to customize my costume at their apartment. I hesitate even thinking of it as a costume, because for all intents and purposes I was this person, wearing standard airport issue clothing. I biked over to Sunnyside with some letter stencils from the hardware store and my new grey jumpsuit. We sat down for some coffee and cake, and I told them a little bit about my day job, Big RED, and my own video work. They told me someone had just emailed them from Montello with plans for a barbeque contest. I made a note to look at some recipies. People in the town were apparently putting up flyers annnouncing the passengers arrival, and other events were spontaneously being planned in this town of around 70 residents. Franzy and Hajoe said they were just a little worried it might turn into some kind of Burning Man Festival with naked people and crazy cars. This project could take on a life of it's own if word has gotten out and people just want to see what's going on. I wonder at what point it would cease to be an airport, how the piece could evolve into something unforeseen or constructed.
From what I heard the whole town was getting really excited for the landing. A few days before everyone arrives, eTeam planned to go to a town meeting where the Air Force was going to brief the residents, because apparently Montello is used in target training. A year earlier someone asked the Air Force if they were going to be an Iraqi town again or if they be an iranian town next year. They were going to see if they could coordinate a flyby for that Friday. It would be too perfect. I asked if they knew about the exercises in researching the location of the airport. "Not at all," they said, "we didn't know anything about the area before purchasing the land oneBay."
I was still trying to figure out how I should play the support person, but I wasn't too worried about defining everything and nailing it down. I got the feeling it was more about setting up a situation with the costumes and characters and the rest would fall into place. It seemed like they were a little hesitant to give me too much direction in even designing my jumpsuit. I got the feeling they wanted to leave it up to me, it was as much about what I was going to bring to the project, as their direction. I have to admit I'm a little worried about being asked to define myself and the amount of participation I should have, in this piece.
Sophia and Anthony from Art In General asked me to get together so we could go over the details of the timeline and events. eTeam would be leaving the next day to get settled and finalize arrangements in town. We talked about the order of events taking place, how the passengers would be picked up by the airport van service, the props for the van and . The director of Art In General, Sophia, would be a stewardess on the flight, announcing the delay and unexpected layover at the International Airport in Montello.
Everything had to be timed in order to make it back to the chartered flight which really had to leave at the scheduled departure time. To make matters worse, the Salt Lake City airport was just past the next time zone, so in Montello, a half hour away, we would be and hour ahead. Timing was going to be crucial.
We discussed who would be ground control team member in order to get a cell phone call from the pilot, with an exact landing time. There was also a film crew coming to document the project, who got involved only a few weeks ago. They would have to play a film crew who were also delayed in their flight to somewhere else. Anyone else arriving through other means had a back story to explain how were were all going to be caught in this burmuda triangle of delay. Even eTeam themselves decided on functioning in a security capacity, in order to document events surrounding the delay.
My role will be general layover support, so any questions the passengers have can be directed to me to explain locations, airport requirements, etc. I've decided I should make some forms and act as an airport PR person. If anyone has suggestions for the airport I'll be happy to make a note of it on this official form in triplicate. If there are questions I don't have the answer to I should come up with an explanation or say I have to go call my supervisor. The nearest area that has cell phone service is a half-hour south of Montello in the middle of the desert, where there is a bench. I'll just be back in an hour with your answer.
To be continued...
Jason Dean will travel with eTeam to the International Airport Montello over the weekend of September 16, 2006. The second part of his travelogue, along with pictures from the trip, will appear in the next issue of Big RED & Shiny.
ETEAM: MONTELLO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, MONTELLO, NV by JASON DEAN in issue #46
The "International Airport Montello" flight and layover take place over the weekend of September 16th. Jason Dean will be travelling with eTeam, and present a followup report on the event in an upcoming issue of Big RED & Shiny.
All images are courtesy of the artists.