In another context, Glen Fuller of Fuller’s Speed Shop points me to an entry of his about “dead wood”, near the end of which he writes briefly about the affect of airports:
there is an announcement broadcast continually over the PA at Sydney Airport that begins with: “Due to increased security measures…” This message has been played over the PA for a long time, I noticed it about 7 months ago. It captures the affective of the ‘to-be’ journey in pretension with itself. That is, the futurity of the present is in an affective tension with the eventuality of the future. The word ‘increased’ increases the polarity of the tension across scales of temporality – of coming and going bodies with various anticipations of the future. The anticipating body is in tension.
I’m not entirely sure what he means, but it has got me thinking…
Airports are often portrayed as very neutral, affectless environments. Think of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, for instance, as the semi-subliminal soundtrack for a place that tries to be as characterless, blank, and unremarkable as possible. I guess that this results in part from the fact that the architecture of airports is characteristically modernist–form following function–unlike the ornate neo-gothic ornamentation that characterizes the great railway stations of the late Victorian period. (Is that the problem with Euston? It’s a train station masquerading as an airport; or vice versa. In any case, it sticks out like a sore thumb compared with the other London terminals, not least its nearest neighbour, St Pancras.)
Of course, airport architecture is also at times spectacular, and supposed to be visually impressive. But still usually its affective tonality is cool. Concrete and curves, glass and grace. Think of Stansted or Vancouver International, two very fine airports, at least the first of which was built by a notable architect (Norman Foster), and the second of which is full of impressive native art: none the less, both aim at quiet seduction rather than brashly drawing attention to themselves.
Of course, too, airports are increasingly becoming bustling bazaars, with barely a square inch of peace (apart, that is, from the VIP lounges) as more and more of their space is given over to commerce. If you thought malls were nightmares, meet the mall without an exit.
But still, the affective image of the airport remains that of unperturbed modernism, a dampening of affect rather than its exacerbation. This is the affect of the “non-place” of liminal insubstantiality.
Yet at the same time, and perhaps here’s the reason, these blank backdrops are the setting for an unending series of affective outbursts. Airports are sanctioned sites for the display of a fairly complex range of emotions, and as such quite different from most other public spaces. Notably, there are the hellos and goodbyes of that membrane separating “airside” from “landside.” “Public displays of affection” are permitted, even expected, here: the lingering embrace or frantic snog of boyfriend seeing off girlfriend, the balloons and flowers waiting for visiting relatives, the tears of the bereft, and increasingly the anxiety of those not merely afraid to fly but reminded to be vigilant, suspicious.
Tiredness and waiting (the bodies draped over chairs as their flights have been delayed), sadness and elation, even drunkenness as somehow when you have a early morning flight to the Algarve 8am is never too early for getting in some lagers at the bar. All possible attitudes of the body are to be seen here.
th paper written with mel gregg will appear later in the year in the Cultural Studies Review in a special issue on a conference called the Itlaian Effect. The passage i refer to in my blog post is actually from a footnote that got choppped from the final edit:”Once described by Marc Augé as that exemplary ‘non-place’ of supermodernity (in Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, 1995), airports are now a key space in the affective modulation of highly mobile populations. Witness the representative announcement at Sydney domestic and international: ‘As part of Sydney Airport’s increased security measures, unattended baggage will be removed. Sydney Airport apologises for any inconvenience caused’. Every time the threshold of Australian sovereignty is crossed, the State of Emergency is flagged via the affective filter of the airport-space. The palpable tension ‘in the air’ is not produced by an actual threat of terrorist attack, but the transmitted event-potential of the terrorist attack broadcast in the stern public announcements by the use of the word ‘increased’.”re modernist airports. makes me think of tati films!
Thanks for this, Glen. I look forward to seeing the journal. Reminds me that I had hoped to be at that conference, but just didn’t manage to get there in the end.