Local Arts

You might be right there, in Charlotte airport’s new artwork

It’s the largest sculpture that artist Refik Anadol has ever created – and if you flew in or out of Charlotte back in the spring (or even if you just parked and picked someone up), you’re in it right now.

The new digital artwork at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is 2,147 square feet of animated art you won’t be able to miss as you travel through Concourse A.

Here are answers to a few questions you might have (including “Wait, how am I in it?”), so that as you stare, you can understand a little more of what’s happening. Just don’t miss your flight.

What’s the general idea?

“Interconnected” includes a data sculpture, two data paintings and exterior fins that change colors in response to the artwork.

The sculpture is one long horizontal panel – 1,152 square feet – of LED screens, placed beside a moving walkway. It “plays” on a 40-minute loop, showing three different visuals (Anadol calls them “chapters”). The lights and shadows in each are produced by data, making the sculpture appear three-dimensional.

The chapters are named “Fluid Structures,” “Impossible Materials” and “Data Poems.”

The best reaction Anadol has ever heard about his work? “It feels like it’s real.”

Seeing the sculpture may seem like the best part, but what makes it change? Your activity in the airport.

Despite hurrying to her flight home to Denver, Colorado Marilyn Oliver paused to make a photo of the newly revealed digital artwork by Refik Anadol. “I’ve never seen anything like this before”, Oliver said. Anadol has created an ever-changing piece of digital artwork that can be seen from both inside and outside the newly opened expansion of Concourse A at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Passengers heading to their gates at the end of the expansion walk past the massive 139’ wide by 7’11” high art. The expansion of Concourse A happened opened for public use on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. John D. Simmons jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

How does it work?

The sculpture uses airport data to change its form. All kinds of data: arrivals, departures, destinations, duration of flights, baggage claims, parking lot information, gate changes and more.

For safety reasons, the sculpture reflects the data in 90-day periods, Anadol said. So each day, the sculpture is showing information that’s 90 days old.

The data is processed by an IT company, and Anadol said he created a method that converts it into the artwork.

How dense the sculpture appears and how fast it moves change depending on how busy the airport is: If you’re watching the sculpture midday, at a typically busy hour, it will be moving faster than if you’re passing through in the middle of the night. Then, it’ll look calmer, reflecting the late-night quiet hours.

Anadol said there’s nothing like this in another airport.

Why Charlotte?

Carla Hanzal, vice president of public art for the Arts & Science Council, said this was a way for Charlotte to put a stake in the ground. Charlotte Douglas served just under 46 million travelers in 2017, and as Hanzal puts it: “The airport is really one of the front doors to Charlotte.”

With this, “we’ve created a space for artwork that’s really innovative, forward-looking.”

The artwork cost about $2.9 million – an artist’s fee of $950,000 and about $2 million for the custom LED pieces – and was funded through the city’s public art allocations and the airport’s public art program.

Anadol responded to a national call for artists made by the Arts & Science Council, which administers the city’s public art program, and ended up being the selection panel’s choice.

Once hired, he said, it took more than a year to complete the project.

“It was a beautiful challenge.”

What’s Anadol’s story?

Processed with VSCO with 1 preset Serge Hoeltschi

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1985, Anadol said he moved to the United States with dreams of getting a master’s degree in fine art. He did, at UCLA, where he now teaches; he lives and has his own studio in Los Angeles.

He has works in Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco. He’s used city data in other pieces, he said, but has never used data so complex and dimensional as found in an airport.

He wants the complexity and speed of life at an airport to be represented in this piece, and hopes his art answers the question: What does it mean to be a human in the 21st century?

“Surrounded by these machines, this technology,” he said, “it’s changing our life every single moment.”

Myah Ward: 704-358-5062; @MyahWard