Sarah Cifarelli stands in front of a series of detailed pen-and-ink drawings by L.A. artist Deborah Aschheim titled "My Life in Airports." The installation, which features row after row of familiar vignettes — security lines, baggage claims, shuttle rides, airport architecture, is installed in Terminal 1 by Gate 2 at LAX.
Aschheim's work is part of a larger airport-wide art initiative called "Influx." It features 11 original, site-specific installations and the work of 45 local artists including Eileen Cowin, Jorge Oswaldo and Cynthia Minet. It's the airport's first-ever public art festival and is on display throughout the airport until the end of the year.
"Art humanizes the travel experience," says Cifarelli, the airport art manager for Los Angeles World Airports. "For so many people, it's about getting to that next place that we forget the in-between. If you pay attention, it's actually fascinating what's happening around us."
The airport is a unique environment to display art. It's a place of watching and waiting. It's filled with anxiety, joy and sorrow, and the people passing through its utilitarian halls — intent on the business of getting from one place to the next — become a part of the installations. The way they interact with the art — or not — takes on a life of its own for the silent observer.
LAX also is holding art walks for the public to tour the installation sites and experience the airport in a whole new light. There have also been live multimedia dance performances by Sarah Elgart in the outdoor courtyard between Terminals 1 and 2.
Aschheim agrees that what's happening around a person in the airport is fascinating, and that's why she was so keen to be a part of the project when a call went out for submissions (which went through a vetting process by Cifarelli's team and the city's Department of Cultural Affairs).
There was one year that she realized that she had spent 109 days out of town for work.
"My criteria for the value of an experience is, do you remember it later?" says Aschheim. "So I get worried about all the time you don't remember: sitting in traffic, waiting in the doctor's office, all the days lost to the fatigue and repetition of air travel."
Her reaction was to start drawing those moments — her life in airports.
"I felt like if I could foreground those experiences I could make them part of my remembered life," she says. "A bank of abandoned pay phones at SFO was something to think about [and draw] for an hour."
Between 7 million and 8 million passengers a year pass through Terminal 1 at LAX, says Cifarelli, so the art is also a way of branding the city. And each artist selected created pieces that fit with the space.
For example, artist Barbara Strasen created 54 lenticular panels that shimmer with changing images of the city as passengers move past them on an escalator. Small panels with phone numbers are by each installation so passengers can call to hear the artist talk about the work in detail.
In Terminal 3, Joyce Dallal installed two formations in adjoining atriums featuring paper airplanes emblazoned with text from the third and fourth Geneva Conventions that soar in spirals toward two large windows looking out on the airfield.
The piece was previously displayed at the United Nations, and Dallal spent nearly a month at the airport retrofitting it to blend into the space she was given. While working on it, she realized that the area was one of the last public places in the terminal that loved ones could wait and watch their loved ones disappear through security into the belly of the airport.
"For the last 20 years I've actively sought to show my work in nontraditional places — shopping malls, store windows, schools, libraries," Dallal says. "I really like being surprised by artwork as I'm going about my business during the day."
That's certainly the case with Eileen Cowin's video installation titled "Blow Me a Kiss" in Terminal 3 by ticketing for Virgin airlines. The piece features four video panels of faces blowing kisses in a variety of ways. It's hypnotic and strange and at first you think it's an advertisement before you realize differently.
"For someone looking for an urban adventure, it's here for them at the airport," says Cifarelli of "Influx." "We've all come through LAX, just with a very different purpose."
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