Travel Desk: A Site Specific Installation Merging Art and Furniture Design

Presented by: Jonathon Anderson

Travel Desk was created as part of a public art commission at a major International airport. The commission was unusual for an airport as it offered a residency period during which the submitting artist could explore various aspects of the airport before finalizing the project outcomes. As a result, the first phase of the project consisted of ten typists, dressed as flight attendants, and invited the public to dictate travel stories. These large-scale performances were held during opening ceremonies of the airport’s new terminal and collected hundreds of stories. Documented stories stimulate an international and ongoing dialogue with local and traveling communities through the creation and installation of site-specific art. 

These stories became the material for the second phase of the project, a 20-foot-long table made from urban harvest eucalyptus wood. This portion of the project was realized through an interdisciplinary collaboration between the artist and an interior design educator.  The tabletop features laser etched excerpts from the collected stories. Travel Desk reminds us how initials carved into a tree trunk along a favorite trail or wooden picnic tables at a beloved spot serve as poignant reminders that we were here. It also provides an indelible physical mark in an increasingly transitory, digital world. 

Travel Desk underwent several design iterations that considered accessibility, the flow of installation space, material choice, fabrication technique and graphic representation of the artwork. The final revisions manifested after a rigorous structural engineering review. The table was co-fabricated in two shops, where one shop was mainly focusing on woodcraft and the second shop focused on laser etching the tabletop. The two fabricators carefully worked together to not only achieve the drawing specifications but also to troubleshoot any unexpected situations. The presentation will present the first phase of the project in the form of a documentary style video, followed by visuals of the design process from concept to realization. We will conclude by presenting how the restrictions associated with public art in an interior environment posed an interesting challenge to the development of furniture. 

Theorist Tim Ingold talks about two models of travel, transporting and wayfaring (2007). In transporting you’re dealing with point A to B, where people often do not perceive space or objects around them and the little nuances that make a place. Wayfaring is the act of exploring a place and opening yourself to unexpected moments. The airport provided an ideal context to ask people to step away from transporting and instead think about wayfaring.  Travel Desk looks to provide those unexpected moments of interaction, both in performance and permanent installation. Travel Desk was permanently installed outside the US Airways check-in counters in January 2015. The table provides the interior space with much needed seating and establishes an iconic meeting place for visitors to partake in wayfaring activities without losing sight of the artwork and the etched reminder of past performances and stories. 

References:

  • Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: A brief History. New York: Routledge.