Performance art in La Guardia Airport's Terminal A

NEW YORK •Terminal A in New York City's La Guardia Airport can be a disorienting place.

It is not connected to the rest of the airport. And upon entering, you find few of the amenities familiar in America's busiest airports today.

The terminal, which opened in 1939 to launch seaplanes, has an Art Deco feel. A 71m James Brooks mural, Flight, adorns one wall. It was done as part of the Works Progress Administration programme under then United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. During the Cold War, it was painted over because critics suspected it carried a hidden communist message.

The terminal has its share of surprises. And now, passengers arriving or departing there are greeted with one more - a piece of live performance art.

In a space outside security that used to be a Hudson News kiosk, writers and close friends Gideon Jacobs and Lexie Smith, who both live in Queens, have set up a writing nook with stacks of books, wooden furniture, rugs and a vintage typewriter.

There they are, writing unique, fictional stories for travellers.

This specific initiative, named Landing Pages, is part of a residency programme established by the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs La Guardia.

Over the next 12 months, artists based in Queens are taking over the airport space for three months at a time to experiment with their media.

Jacobs and Smith are the first - their project began on May 2.

There are a few rules. One, customers must approach them. Some visitors see a sign written in chalk on a blackboard that says, "We will write you a story. Ask Us!"

More often, people come up looking for the bathroom or rental car facilities. "Some days, I feel like I work here," Jacobs said. "I even have a parking spot."

Those who choose to participate provide their flight number and contact details. The writers then draft a story for them while their flights are in the air and text it to them before they land.

"The time constraint is a fun challenge," Smith said. "We definitely follow flights to see if they are delayed. There was one that was, by two hours. We were happy for the extra time."

They write an average of six stories a day. They hope to finish 50 by June 30, when their project ends, and compile them in a book. "We're probably going to self-publish and give it to whoever will take it," she said.

After Jacobs and Smith finish, Sandra Lopez-Monsalve, a multimedia producer, will be up. She will record ambient noises around the airport and make an electronic map with them. Anyone will be able to go online, click on a spot on the map and play the sounds heard every day in that exact location.

"A lot of airports have art," said Ms Lysa Scully, general manager of La Guardia Airport. "But having active and involved art that customers engage with, that is the unique model. I haven't seen that anywhere."

Terminal A was chosen as the home of the ArtPort Residency, as it is officially named, "because it was a space we completely controlled", Ms Scully said.

But all parties involved agree the space is far from ideal. Because it is located before security, passengers are stressed and do not have the time or mental bandwidth to focus on art. "There are people who are rushing because they don't have anything else to interact with them," Ms Scully said. "So this is for people to be able to stop a moment."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2018, with the headline 'Performance art in La Guardia Airport's Terminal A'. Print Edition | Subscribe