Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Poleaxed in Schiphol

I went to the Netherlands last week for a short work trip. It was a good trip, but I do find the Netherlands a funny place... clean, efficient and controlled on the surface, but something else going on underneath. I am not sure a complete lack of grunge is good for the psyche.

I was musing on all this as I returned by smooth, ultra-punctual public transport to Schiphol airport, only to find that my British Midland flight was delayed by 90 minutes because of the weather in London. Bloody marvellous.

So I took my time, and looked around... bought a bright pink case on wheels (adult luggage at last!), some orange gladioli bulbs and some extra mature Gouda. And then I saw this big neon flashing tower, which everyone else seemed to be ignoring.

It started gently, orange text on black:

Ignoring enemies is the best way
Illness is a state of mind
Imposing order is man's vocation, for chaos is hell
It can be helpful to keep going no matter what

And then slowly got more paranoid and apocalyptic. Ten minutes later it was flashing red and green...
Waiting is weakness
Weakness is slavery
Burn down the system that has no place for you
Everything conspires to make you hungry and afraid for your babies

I was rooted to the spot. Would there be proclamations about flames devouring the enemy in an airport in the average country these days? I rather think not.

When I got home I found out it had been there since 1995. One weblog has said about it: "Some airport managers do try out new tools and techniques to make complex space more inhabitable. Schiphol in Amsterdam, for example, installed a large Jenny Holzer artwork in one particularly vapid void. Cryptic words and phrases flow up and down the 20 metre-high stack of digital displays all day long. Jenny Holzer's use of typography and digital displays has a particular resonance for anyone contemplating the notion of semiotic pollution in the sheer volume of information swirling around us. I guess these are the first artists to have spent a lot of their lives staring at departure boards. But this large, strong, clearly-conceived, and subversive object, is pitiful in the context of Schiphol as a whole. Phenomenologically, it is inert. It is powerless to communicate amidst the silent roar of people, movement and information that pervades the airport."

I don't agree. It freaked me out no end. But that was written in 2000, so maybe it was a work of art waiting for airside paranoia to really take off.



Anonymous jonathan said...

Well that sounds like a pretty powerful message to me, and I think the fact of it being written in flashing lights on a huge neon tower would be enough to catch my attention as well. Mind you they're funny, restless places, airports, aren't they... I can quite imagine all those dazed Eurocommuters scurrying around, lost in their worries about business meetings, lost baggage and exchange rates, and completely failing to notice this great throbbing apparition.

Anyway I am glad to see things seem to be looking up and your employers haven't insisted on you travelling to Amsterdam by bus (although I suppose that would probably be just as expensive nowadays..)

1:36 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Well, I *wanted* to get the train, as I increasingly feel uncomfortable about short haul flights, but that's another story!

11:28 pm  

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