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The airport was one of the iconic symbols of the modern age and is now a site where the contradictions and problems of the contemporary world circle and land. It has become a battle line in issues around globalisation, border control, state security, and individual freedom. Flight itself has lost its romance. It is now recognised as an environmental threat, subject to flygskam (flight shame).
Terminal is an exhibition of international art made about the airport, not for it. Its artists variously address the airport as site, form, or symbol—often by subverting its iconography and processes, or tackling its histories and politics. It includes parody airport-security instruction videos, photos made by the X-ray baggage scanner, photos of objects confiscated by customs at JFK Airport over a one-week period, a performance staged on the runway on Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, and two films set in an abandoned airport in Athens.
The question of the art world’s complicity with the politics of the airport is ever present. This is an exhibition for a time when some predict the end of airports, and even of art as we know it. The border closures and grounding of the aviation and art industries following Covid-19 has only intensified the exhibition’s key themes of migration, globalisation, and the ethics and politics of flight—while leaving some of the work stuck in transit.
Terminal is laid out as a kind of imaginary airport with zones dedicated to Arrivals, Screening, the Runway, and Departures. It is less about airports than with tracking some of the ways that contemporary art has contested the image, experience, and idea of the airport—often as a gateway to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.
The exhibition features a stellar list of international artists: John Akomfrah (UK), Ed Atkins (UK), Marco Brambilla (Italy/US), Walead Beshty (US), Lauren Brincat (Australia), Thomas Demand (Germany), Simon Denny (New Zealand), Charles and Ray Eames (US), Andreas Gursky (Germany), Naeem Mohaiemen (Bangladesh/US), Adrian Paci (Albania), Alex Prager (US), and Taryn Simon (US).