Museum Piece Interlude – Austin Airport Galleries

Today & last year & soon

One of my favorite art installations in Austin is only accessible to me when I am coming home: Uplifted Ground by the Michael Singer Studio.

Home is a complicated thing. When I moved to Austin I assumed it’d be a short stint, a few years spent elsewhere to recalibrate my life, which at the time was falling apart, then back to Virginia. Instead I found community, a career, my husband. I’m split messily in half: roots in the Blue Ridge, new growth in central Texas.

Uplifted Ground is situated on the walkway to the airport parking lot. It’s seen me slack with relief at the end of a journey, sobbing in despair after a distant funeral, exhausted and dazed from long hours of travel. It’s a stunning piece, massive blocky sculptures floating and glowing, the idea of a liminal space balanced in concrete and wire.

The marriage of liminality and unambiguous purpose is why I love airports. You are held between spaces, with nothing to do but exist until you’re required to move. Art in that context used to seem odd to me. It’s visible only on the way to someplace else, and you might not even recognize what you’re looking at if you’re finding your gate, locating the bathrooms, navigating the roil of moving bodies. I wondered what the artists thought of their work being displayed in such a transitory location, and I’d feel a little smug for caring when so many must wander by, oblivious.

But on my most recent flight out, the first trip I’ve taken for the joy of it since COVID upended our world, I realized their works are seen more often than almost anything in a typical gallery. The enormous guitars, the lizards skittering along the bathroom tiles and the giant floating blocks, illuminated from the inside, greet thousands of people every day as they emerge into a new place, or come back home.