Concourse C Collaborative Project - New Orleans International Airport
The coordination, fabrication and installation of this project was administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans, Lake Douglas, Public Art Director.
- Emery Clark: lead artist; painter and environmental artist
- Mary Ann Caffery: glass, potter, crafts
- Gerald Cannon: painter, computer, and music
- John Scott: sculptor, painter, "public" artist
- Steve Sweet: painter, collage, computer
- Ellis Marsallis: musician
- Gerald Billes, architect; Billes & Manning lead architects
Having isolated six areas in which we wished to concentrate artist involvement in phase two of the Concourse C project, the five selected artists collaborated collectively and independently with the project architects, musician Ellis Marsalis, and physicist Dr. Robert Morris of Tulane University to arrive at a central set of tenets used to anchor the artists’ involvement around a common theme. This theme first derived its impetus from the “New Orleans sound” associated with blues and jazz music. It was noted that the rhythms of the clerestory windows located between service corridors described a twelve bar blues pattern. This led to a request that Mr. Marsalis enter a short blues improvisation in the New Orleans tradition into a computer-based sequencing program for purposes of visualization (Fig. 1). Manipulation of these auditory and visual patterns served as the rhythmic key linking the various artistic components.
In addition to this rhythmic theme an additional motif was adopted by the collaborators. This motif was based on elements of the natural environment in the New Orleans area: light, shadow patterns, muted blue/green colors, and water reflections were used along with visual equivalents of musical rhythms to convey a sense of place to New Orleans visitors.
- Carpet (Emery Clark)
Water patterns, reflections and colors derived from Louisiana water forms --the Gulf, rivers, bayous, lakes and tidal basins-- were source material for the carpet, to be either 12" x 12" carpet tiles or continuous loom. The technology exists to transfer digitized images onto carpet. The carpet was envisioned as a base for the general rhythms and muted environmental color scheme to be used throughout the project. "Reflections" in the carpet fields were designed to have edges of spectral color which would visually connect with the colors generated by the prisms and diachronic glass in the clerestory windows (explained below). While the carpet colors were necessarily static, the changing light would create varying patterns of color moving over these fixed hues. Late in the course of construction, Aviation Board management decided against using carpet and opted instead to use terrazzo. Mr./Ms. Clark then worked with project architects to design terrazzo patterns and select colors that matched as closely as possible the original intent.
- Ceramic tile (Mary Ann Caffery)
The ceramic corridor-facing walls in the service cores (housing restrooms, service closets, and telephones) are eye-level, tactile, and immediate in their impact. The tiles serve as vehicles to directly convey the two basic themes of the project -- musical rhythms and environmental elements. Muted colors suggestive of water and vegetation were integrated with the sparkling color highlights coming from the reflective surfaces and dichroic glass. The neutral base color of the tile was interspersed with the tile patterns derived from the musical rhythms of the improvisation. These echo solo variations within an arrangement. Decorative borders and linear placement of the patterns serve to reference other elements and echo the linear movement of the concourse. In addition, "surprise" tiles, similar to those in the corridor installations, were placed randomly in the restrooms behind the corridor walls.
- Service Area Walls (Steve Sweet)
The 8’ x 40’ walls located in the service areas serve as "screens" for diffuse shadow pattern projections derived from native Louisiana foliage such as magnolia, oak, and palmetto. These overlapping shadow projections are covered with fabric scrims that move slightly to simulate the natural motion of leaves in a breeze. In addition to these shadow projections, prisms were suspended above the concourse floor to project colors downward. A subtle, festive atmosphere is created as the multi-colored light engulfs airport visitors.
- Acoustical Panels (Gerald Cannon)
The architect specified brushed aluminum acoustical panels of a uniform size for the grids above the open bays on the concourse. Using the digitized pattern derived from the Mr. Marsalis's musical improvisation, the artist designed a light gray pattern which would be applied to the panels via a silkscreen technique. The original input was abstracted by first "quantizing" the notes (adjusting the notes so that they fall exactly on a designated timing such as a quarter note), so that all note starts were moved to the beginning or ending of the closest bar. All notes were then converted to whole notes, hence filling the bar with which they were associated. Four of these whole notes were associated with each 2’ x 2’ panel, and each was inserted as a band of gray. This provides a subtle rhythmic movement that undulates, intensifies, and diminishes throughout the concourse, formally reflecting the other, more natural rhythms based on a similar theme. The final product produced a "mirage-like" effect.
- Sound (Ellis Marsalis):
It was envisioned that the original musical theme provided by Mr. Marsalis would be altered electronically by area musicians and artists, and would become a computer-based musical environment providing an 8 to 12 hour sequence of theme and variations for the corridor. This would, in a sense, become an ongoing improvisational jam session in the jazz tradition, eventually providing many hours of original music piped into the visual environment through existing sound systems. Airport administration determined that this component would not be implemented.
- Clerestory windows (John Scott):
Through extraction of an essential rhythmic structure once again from the musical source material, the clerestory windows became a field upon which the composition became a visual music. The light of day plays the piece at its own pace and with changing moods. The elements chosen to accomplish this were simple prisms and dichroic glass. The prisms create brief flashes of intense color that rapidly change their position in space. This happens much like the rapid-fire intensity of a jazz solo; emphatic but brief enrichment of the composition without domination. The reflective, refractory dichroic glass carries the visual melody with its bar structure and syncopated rhythmic breaks. The effect begins with a glass installation as the corridor intersects with the main lobby (visible to travelers as they enter the lobby area) and continues in the large round atrium at the end of the concourse (visible to travelers as they leave the concourse).
The budget for the project was $100,000, which included artists’ fees, supervision, and materials as needed.
The Arts Council was invited to participate in this project through the architect Gerald Billes of Billes & Manning. A call to artists was circulated among regional artists to submit letters of interest. Through an interview process that involved active participation with the project architects, the lead artist was selected and a team assembled.
This project became an improvisational jazz piece. Playing off one another, the artists attempted to build around the themes of local musical traditions and the south Louisiana natural environment. The process allowed for the stylistic uniqueness of the members in "solo performances"without sacrificing the ensemble’s strength.
This project was part of a major effort to upgrade the New Orleans International Airport. At the time of the project's inception, there was no design review process for the airport and no real coordination between any airport elements: as new construction or renovation took place, different architects, contractors and engineers did whatever they wanted to without regard to any previous plan and without the benefit of a long-range design strategy. It was hoped that the consciously coordinated design of this installation would inspire the Aviation Board (the airport's governing agency) to become more design-conscious and cognizant of the value of coordinated, thoughtful design. The project stretched over a long period of time, from late 1989 until 1995. There were delays in funding and implementation, compounded by late changes in materials and design. Ultimately, as the concourse was nearing completion, the City’s political administration changed and there was a corresponding change in the composition of the Aviation Board. The new Board was reluctant to acknowledge any initiative or project from the previous Board, hence the project never received the public acknowledgement and recognition it deserved. No plaque or printed material was produced, as originally envisioned, to explain the project. Overall, the project is subtle and understated, much like the personalities of those involved. Nevertheless, it stands as a milestone in New Orleans public art for the collaborative way in which it was constructed and executed. It was truly a collaborative process among many different people that worked successfully to produce a project that is as significant for its results as for the means through which those results were achieved. A great deal of credit is due to architect Gerald Billes, who imagined adding a public art component to the way he wanted to design the project and to Emery Clark, who led the team through the challenging and exciting process of collaborative design.