Last month I traveled by air for the first time in three years. Since March 2020 pandemic had kept me on a short leash between yard and living room, paying off the bills for cancelled trips. During this time I shrank my world to the space allowed and let myself forget how much I love airports, that vast impermanent canvas where the elegance of infrastructure and messiness of human drama intersect. I had also forgotten that an airport is not just a means to a destination, but a state of mind.
My favorite part of the day is the seconds between sleeping and waking: the space between. “Liminal state” is the term for that which is neither here nor there, and it’s a territory of enormous freedom. In an airport the liminal reigns. You aren’t supposed to be anywhere: your only duty is to look out the window. There, from your rocking chair in the Knoxville Recomposure Station, or the bar in Houston, you are completely justified in simply admiring the tarmac. A labyrinth of geometry and human industry, it is well worth study, however long the layover.
The soundtrack for this travelers’ cinema, and for my creative journey, is inextricably entwined with Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Probably no other music has affected my way of working and seeing the world more than this seminal album from 1978. Eno and his band of ambient brothers gave authority to the dreaming imagination and sparked an entirely new genre of music. On first hearing, (on a Sony boombox), it became my home. When I began traveling for work as a typographer and designer I discovered that artists in Denmark and Holland were also inking serifs and coding alphabets to Harold Budd, Lyle Mays (listen to the aptly named Before You Go), Eno, Eluvium and others. Standing at a conference in Oxford trading music with Danish type designers, knowing that at 2 AM we were working to the same sounds, brought the world full circle. It also meant that I wasn’t crazy to value ambiance, and by extension visual atmospherics, as much as drama and plot.
I did not expect to come home from a journey to see fireflies in Knoxville to make 18 prints about flight. But two things happened en route to my destinations: the Houston airport stripped off its carpet and left a concrete floor, and I had a conversation with a stranger on a plane. What happened next is either a case of attention deficit syndrome or simply what it is to be an artist. [Read more…]