Thursday, April 26, 2012

Airport Studies

I've often joked about wanting somehow to acquire an abandoned airport and convert it into an art gallery—or just capture it as a tremendous art piece, really, everything around the normal operations of flight left undisturbed.  Another idea: take an old airport and reclaim it as a liberal arts college campus.  I like the thought of holding seminars in the departure lounges, and having studio art classes around old luggage carrousels. Intact aircraft scattered around the tarmac would serve as dorms, and the control tower?  Just think of the possibilities...

I suppose these fantasies are related to my fascination with "airplane boneyards": those places in arid geographic locations where aircraft go to hibernate, die, or be salvaged.  I can rove over the Google satellite views of these ghostly landscapes for hours.  Here's a snapshot of the boneyard outside of Tucson, Arizona:

There's something chilling yet captivating about seeing all these planes lined up, some cockeyed or askew, all types of military planes returned from who knows what far flung missions and campaigns.  Look at that swing-wing fighter jet with one wing akimbo and the other wing gone; or the one missing both wings and sitting off alone, as if multiply abject.

It may be that I have just finished rereading Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, and it has put me in the mindset of ruins and remains.  McCarthy himself did not miss the chance to conjoin twentieth-century flight lore and post-apocalyptic survival; in one memorable image he describes wandering refugees "wearing masks and goggles, sitting in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators."

This topic makes me want to return to Don DeLillo's Underworld, to mull over those scenes where one character has begun a massive endeavor to turn a boneyard into a vast three-dimensional canvas of sorts: "We can paint their deactivated aircraft."

Perhaps at my airport liberal arts college I'll finally teach a course on "airport studies," which will take into account the various weird ways that air travel lends itself to creative re-purposing, philosophical speculation, and perceptual shifts away from flight per se.  "Airport studies" is also the title of one of my book chapters that wanders and wonders down this path a bit.  (My book, by the way, now appears on the Continuum site in its paperback edition, for an appealing $24.95!)