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Airport art evokes experience of flying

Going to the airport can be a frustrating, stress-filled experience.

Or, in the eye of the optimist, it can be a place to reignite the childlike wonder of flight or bring back the glamour of airline travel, to offer a uniquely Southern welcome or an all-American greeting.

Count the artists of the Atlanta airport's new international terminal among the optimists. While harried travelers try to get from point A to point B, their artwork aims to at least make the journey more interesting.

The works were chosen for the new terminal by a seven-member panel of art experts. Hundreds of artists were considered and a handful selected to submit concept statements.

The airport is spending more than $5 million for art in the international terminal, which opens May 16.  A city ordinance calls for 1 percent of certain construction funds to be devoted to public art.

While the terminal is mainly functional -- creating a new gate and check-in complex for international passengers - officials hope art and other amenities that create a memorable impression will help make Hartsfield-Jackson a place people choose to fly through.

A portrait of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, for whom the terminal is named, hangs in the check-in area, but much of the rest of the art is large-scale hanging pieces or walls that are themselves art.

The first major piece travelers see after going through the main security checkpoint is a giant conical Swarovski crystal chandelier called "RebiLace," by Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski.

"Travel used to be really elegant, especially international travel, and it isn't anymore.... It's utilitarian and it's slightly a hassle," Lipski said. "I thought a chandelier might be just the thing to bring back some of that elegance." In RebiLace -- an anagram of Liberace -- he sought to replicate the grandeur travelers might have experienced on the Queen Mary or in Europe's landmark train stations.

Also past security in the international atrium is "airFIELD," a suspended sculpture of round acrylic discs that make up two intersecting swooping shapes. From some angles they resemble a bird in flight. In the piece by California artist collective Uebersee, the discs are programmed to turn opaque in movements through the sculpture that replicate flight paths, synced close to real time with flight tracking data from FlightAware.

"This childlike fascination with flying just gets hampered by the normal air traffic experience," Uebersee artist Nik Hafermaas said. "What we've set out to do is to recapture some of that fascination again," and to visualize the thousands of takeoffs and landings happening every day at the world's busiest airport.

"My eyeballs are drawn to it," said McDonough resident Daniel Radonski, who saw the international terminal during a dry run of operations.

But the piece in the international terminal that covers the most ground, at least physically, is Decatur artist Amy Landesberg's "Veneers," a wall installation between Concourses E and F made of glass panels colored with images of wood grains from 29 extinct or endangered species of trees. The glass wall separates passengers on the "sterile" side who have been screened from those who have not. The wood grain images change colors from reds to blues and back to reds down the long corridor, to "give a sense of progress," Landesberg said.

Landesberg's 640-foot long piece is the highest-priced artwork in the international terminal at $1.5 million, but over the long term it's not expected to be the most expensive art in the airport. That title would belong to a $4 million yet-to-be built replication of a forest called Flight Paths in the underground walkway between Concourses A and B.

In the international terminal, another long walkway holds "Light Waves: Atlanta" by Lexington, Mass., artist Christopher Janney, an interactive wall with colored light shadows and music for arriving passengers headed toward Customs. Janney said many architects use art to "solve a problem" in a building -- such as a long, monotonous underground corridor.

As people run their hands along the piece, panels light up and make sounds.The sounds include flutes and marimbas as well as frogs, crickets, birds and other animals indigenous to Georgia.

"This sort of grounds you as to what part of the world you're in," Janney said.

Another piece called "American Tapestry" stretches above the Customs queuing area -- a set of three long panels of high-definition television monitors, each 10 feet high, showingimages of Georgia and the United States. The images can serve as "entertainment and distraction" for people waiting in line, according to Atlanta-based Broadcast Solutions partner Russ Jamieson, who developed the project with Philadelphia-area documentary producers Mark and Donna Tuttle.

Other pieces in the international terminal for the opening include animated short films and video on airport kiosks in partnership with the Atlanta Film Festival and a series of landscape photographs in partnership with Atlanta Celebrates Photography. Yet to be completed is a piece made up of suspended metallic bead chains by Atlanta artist Christopher Moulder for the arrivals hall.

The artists are well aware that not all will be able to easily see their artwork -- even if they're coming to the international terminal, because many passengers won't pass through all parts of the facility.

"It's just the nature of the beast," Landesberg said.