A embedded media project for airports

Thérèse Kristiansson &
Kristoffer Svenberg

Thérèse Kristiansson "Embedded Media in Airports, Traces" 
Kristoffer Svenberg "Traces, A Konstfack Design Task for Airports" 

Traces (Youtube)
<< video



At Arlanda we were introduced to Karl Lindgren, our guide and source of information throughout the entire project. Of course you imagine an airport being a huge apparatus of logistics but I don’t think I had quite understood the dimension of it earlier. Arlanda has about 18 million passengers every year and Luftfartsverket 16 000 employees. Arlanda consumes as much energy as the entire city of Sundsvall (pop.49 400) which is supplied to them by their own energy company. The actual flying business, that is take off and landing, doesn’t give a lot of money. The pressure of keeping the air-plane tickets cheap makes the airport's facilities directly linked to flying a non lucrative business. The money is found in the side operations; the restaurants, the shops, the hotels, conference facilities and of course ads. It’s become so cheap to fly that almost anyone can afford it, but we all have to spend money at Arlanda to actually make the business of the airport go around.



E-mail correspondence between me, my brother and four of his friends about airports in general and Arlanda in particular


While discussing the project with my brother who is a London-based, very much travelling banker, he got some of his friends engaged in an e-mail discussion about airports. I thought it would be interesting to hear what people who spend four to eight hours every week at different airports think about them. It’s probably the public space they spend the most time in during the entire week, which shows in the way they talk about it. Living parts of their lives at the airport they expect it to have all the facilities a usual city would have. They don’t reflect upon the environmental impact of their necessary travels but more on the impact travelling has on them, that it tires them etc. When they describe something positive concerning the airport it’s primarily about what shops there are and what food you can get, nothing else signifies the airport and no other impact is considered. For exempel Daniel says:”Gardemoen är ganska snygg med allt trä utan att bli för mycket av en nordic-light-wannabe. Bäst shopping i Köpenhamn, jag tror för att de har lyckats ge det en någorlunda exklusiv känsla (för att vara en nordisk flygplats) med branded stores. I chose two of the inputs in the converstaion that I found most interesting.” and Davis says:” Håller med om att Köpenhamn vinner Nordiska mästerskapen på trivselfaktor. Schiphol har ännu bättre shopping, också eftersom större, men mer opersonlig (och bara äcklig mat). Franz-Joseph Strauss (Munich) vinner EM. Wien har en riktigt trevlig ost-och-vin-bar, nästan som en delikatessbutik, med barstolar, lite vinprovning, etc.”


You could say that while we are travelling increasingly because of the low airfare, causing emissions of CO2, we are also consuming more in order to compensate for the low ticket prices. And every product you buy has a hidden flow of waste that you add to the list of polluting the planet. For e.g. a t-shirt (usual weight 0,23 kilo) has a 'hidden flow' of 1544 kilo which is the collected amount of raw material, water and air that has gone through the system when the cotton t-shirt was produced (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy). This is of course not visible to you the moment you buy the nice Stockholm souvenir t-shirt, and also you can’t see the C02 effecting the atmosphere. Neither can you maybe see the social changes mass-tourism brings to a country nor the impact of your life style at your holiday destination. But they actually don’t vanish, the traces you create exist.


Time also leaves traces and at Arlanda you can see time has been around. The Swedish capital’s airport still to some extent shows the ideals and estetiques of the time it was built during. Ideals have changed and so has the function of the airport and today’s slick international airport design clashes with the brown and beige tones of Arlanda. At the same time this gives a sense of history, of something with a bigger life-span than an ad or Espresso bar that you else find at the airport of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London etc.




The concept of the project in collaboration with Kristoffer Svenberg


Everything we do leaves traces behind, some are great and some are devastating. At the airport traces are immediately washed away, no one leaves anything behind; if you do so it is most likely to be taken care of by a cleaner, policeman or customs. Individuals don't seem to have great importance, it's more about the mass, the system. Does that mean you have no responsibility? No power to effect? Don't see the consequences of your actions? Of course you're too tired, to stressed at work, feeling to sorry for yourself after a long depressing winter and in need of a little fun to be able to see any of this. But everyone does actually have a responsibility, everyone is part of forming the world and situation we are in today, and everyone has to make active decisions.

Our project has the intention to make people aware of the traces their lifestyle and actions leave behind working with the concept and understanding of traces.

The project will be embedded within the existing media and structure of the airport.


The idea of traces are found in following:

The romantic idea of the innocent (as in no-impact) tourist, leaving behind nothing but footprints on the beach that get washed away by the crystal blue tide. No traces are left behind, you're presence seems to have no physical impact.

The traces of you at Arlanda; toilets, food, garbage...

The traces of the air-plane in the sky, the CO2 emission.

The traces of Swedish tourism and migration abroad.

Traces of time at arlanda...wanting to wash away all signs of history and age at Arlanda it's transforming into a spotless and carefree mall. The old sections still remaining tell a story about Arlanda and the Swedish society.

At one point we had an idea of manifesting the idea of traces through some kind of technical apparatus on the floor that would make your footsteps that were left behind you glow like a light thread until they slowly would disappear, get washed away. The entire floor would so consists of glowing and vanishing footprints. The idea was an attempt to make people physically aware of their actual footprints on the floor, so that, in a combination of other works, our statement and ideas would become clear. We liked they idea but in the end decided to make our piece as subtle as possible. Being consequent throughout our idea it felt more interesting to work with the idea without any physical additions except for words and only within the already existing media available at the Airport.




The form of the project


The sentence “Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” is extensively used within the backpacker and tourism culture and pictures the innocent traveller just wanting to observe, not influencing or at all changing the places he or she visits.


We want to communicate the quote through different media when leaving a trace through some kind of interaction at the Arlanda; when you check-in and get your boarding card, when you buy something and get a receipt, when you press the elevator button and a voice confirms which level you pressed, when you look at the flight monitor for your gate and see the number in the right line...


Artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Krueger have worked extensively with this kind of art and communication. Placing something outside its intended context changes the entire meaning of it. The idea of actually leaving nothing behind is impossible and becomes interesting in the context of an airport, more as something that wants you to think about what impact you as a person have on the the environment, cultures etc. rather than saying you’re not allowed to travel, everything we consume is bad and so on.


In some way it’s also about personalising the unpersonal responses you receive when interacting with something at Arlanda. The message embedded in your boarding pass or receipt leave an open question you can either get intrigued by or just ignore, but in any case it’s something you wouldn’t expect from any interaction at Arlanda. Also it makes Arlanda unique and the items, the specific boarding pass or receipt differ from all the others. Something you usually throw away might turn into something you want to save.


Through only using the existing media at Arlanda, adding nothing but words, we follow the logic of our idea about traces, that small interventions can have great impact and change an entire meaning. The boarding pass all of a sudden gets labeled as Art, just as a certain detstination gets turned into Paradise, or too “charter”.

Therese Kristiansson, Stockholm, 13.03.2008

                                                                                                                                  back to traces menu


                                                                                                                                  back to traces menu

Embedded Media in Airports



text: Thérèse Kristiansson 


Thoughts about the project before it started

 I started out by looking up ideas that I’d once read about in books such as Invisable cities by Italo Calvino and Non-lieu by Marc Augé. The airport is a strange place in many ways, although I don’t agree with Marc Augé in terms of talking about places as non- places. That reduces the addressed space and makes it hard to discuss and criticise. It misses the social networks that exist in such places, and makes it hard to discuss the physical materiality. The term non-space tells you it’s nothing, which is quite the contrary of what it is.

The spread of such places is something to be recognised. Specially if you think about it in the way Rem Koolhaas does in Project on the City or Italo Calvino in Invisable Cities. They both talk about the airport becoming the only place with a specific national identity in the future, because every city will look alike, “The world is covered by a sole trude, which does not begin nor end. Only the name of the airport changes.” (Invisable Cities, Italo Calvino). The souvenir shops’ merchandise will be the only hint of where you’ve actually been; a mini version of smiling Mona Lisa, a leaning plastic tower, a teddy bear with a beer jug in one hand...


I also thought about Wim Wenders and his portraits of airports and spaces that have the same feeling to them as airports, scenes from Landscapes of Desire and Paris, Texas. Places where time stands still because you’re in a bubble, a vacuum, a fish in a tank, not part of the normal world.


An airport is a gateway to dreams, of course, both when leaving and arriving.

Notions of exotic distant places, or family and home, danger and excitement. It all starts at the airport, it’s the first step. Since the airport is not a part of the normal city it’s already a part of your destination in a way. It’s strange how an airport is different from a train station for example, though both serve the same purpose of transportation. The train station is very much a public space, where people sell news papers and snacks from small wagons, musicians play for coins and homeless people can hang out during cold winter days. It is very unlikely to see any of this at an airport. Why is the airport not more of a public space?

I guess there are a lot of answers to that question, but they all depend on choices society, or some people have made. The issue of security for example. The train station also deals with international destinations, but not as distant as the one’s reachable from Arlanda. Sweden has as a member of the E.U. agreed on welcoming some of the worlds’ peoples but not others. The airport is a place where boundaries are upheld and protected, where people chose lane after nationality, or can’t chose anything at all because they’re not supposed to be there. The US Patriot Act has of course increased all of these regulations.


All this came to me before even going to Arlanda, because in one way the project is very site specific, but at the same time Arlanda is as much a phenomena as as an actual physical location outside Stockholm, Sweden. Arlanda is part of a system that goes far beyond what’s visible at Arlanda.



A Konstfack designtask for airports

text: Kristoffer Svenberg



Tourism and travelling have been an important issue in my art practice for several years now. I’ve been discussing where the long-distance contemporary (western) tourism industry places itself within a postcolonial discourse. It’s been about power structures and language. And when I say language it’s not just in a literally meaning. Everything we do means something and has consequences.

My own identity and history as a backpacker has been a core in my work and discussions. And a lot of my interests are in things that at the time when I was travelling were presented just as normal. I’m interested in how things that we just consider as normal and a matter of fact are strongly political. How popular culture generates structures that aren’t just free. And in order to visualise the role of the backpacker and the tourist, I use the contemporary surfing culture as metaphor. In a project that I call “All we do is surf” my focus is on pictures in the public sphere in Bali. I’m photographing already existing pictures in order to ask questions and point out structures and meanings in the tourism situation. I’m choosing pictures that I see as generated through the tourism industry. In what way are those pictures political? And where is their connection to an actual place?


I wanted to learn more about different ways of using media in the public space.

That’s why I made my choice to participate in the course Embedded Media at Konstfack. I didn’t know anything about the involvement of Arlanda. But it has definitely given me experiences in how it is to design things for such a big institution as an Airport. Of course there are a lot of regulations in a boarder-line security checked area. But there are also other important things to handle and think about in order to keep your integrity as an artist.


Therese Kristiansson and I started early to discuss the design task together, and it developed into a collaboration. Our main thoughts were to focus primarily on the content and the concept in what we wanted to do. We felt that it would be strange for us to just design a spectacular ornament in the airport. We considered the context and the meaning of our actions very important. The process has been far from just easy and there have been a lot of side ideas in our conversations. But the first thing we started to do was a background research about the airport as phenomenon and place.        




The Airport as a place


In the book Non-Places, Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, Marc Augé has written things about the airport that is possible to understand as a place with a lack of identity. He has written about places that aren’t really places, super modern transit halls that he calls Non-Places.

And in Generic Cities Rem Koolhaas discusses how cities evolve in to becoming more and more like airports. He calls those places generic cities, and declares that they are mostly like shells to their mediated identity.

Those two texts have a lot of interesting things to say about the site specific and about  airports. But I’m really not agreeing on the term Non-places.


An airport is a huge space. A space where at least I feel that it’s very important to follow the rules. And there isn’t very much room for spontaneous behaviour. Except for the fact that people try to sleep here and there when travelling has made them exhausted.

But even if you feel dutiful in the airport there is a lack of personal responsibility, caused by the fact that we just feel like small pieces in a large game. And it’s common to reason as if the airport is just a matter of course. Like if it’s just an obvious functional area that we pass through.


But if then all the airports in the world now are so much alike, what kind of system are they? What kind of language do they speak and what are they saying? Is it just functional? Is the lack of room for spontaneous behaviour on purpose? And is the only spontaneous thing we can do to shop? Like in the growing numbers of malls in the city of Stockholm and elsewhere. Planned architecture with no other possibilities than strictly commercial.


This is very effective, and through the airport the consumers take this behaviour globally. And even if the airport is just a place we visit when we travel somewhere it is part of a bigger picture. Airports generate how we relate to time and space. And I believe that they are a part of what leads us to accepting those kinds of spaces like city malls as public spheres. Places that we accept to transit through, but never would like to spend the most of our time in.


The airport work as a structure to get you through as effective as possible and there are not many things there that tell you, or remind you of the past or your traces. In the transit halls, and on the flights, are your luggage, your food, and the garbage being handled by the staff. You just order what you want and pay. What you receive then, beside what you consume, is just a receipt.


As the structures are today the airports want to be part of a global identity that definitely is part of the contemporary globalisation force. It’s a part of the airports identity. I wouldn’t like to call it a lack of identity, even if it is when you compare a lot of airports and they are pretty much the same. But to say that airports are places that lacks of identity sound to me as if they are neutral and not political. As I see it there are a lack of heterogeneity in those spaces, not identity.





The process has really been a challenge for Therese and me with this project. And it is interesting for us now to see that it has developed into a very minimal intervention proposal for the airport environment. Minimal but with a lot of content and multiple ways of reading in the context of the huge system that is the airport. A proposal that we really want, and hope to see realized as a design and art project.


Everything we do leave traces behind. Some are great and some are devastating. We want to remind people in a poetic and a bit unexpected way about a narrative, and then not just the before and after transit. We want to deal with each individual presence, with ongoing existence and footprints.

The ways we’re going to do this are with small messages that will be subtle, shown in connection to transactions and information consumption. For example the commonly used slogans: “Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” and “Leave nothing but footprints in the sand.” printed on passengers boarding passes. Those slogans has been used in uncountable many different occasions like directly in tourism locations, in magazines, websites etc. And there is nothing original with just using the sentences themselves. But the meaning will be slightly changed, and much more complex within transactions and as information on the passengers boarding passes. We believe that the very strong context is going to change the passenger ways of reading those messages. But we can never be sure about how they will be interpreted.


Even if I'm critical of certain things in the tourism industry, my optimal goal is not, and have never been to get people to end travelling. People have been travelling since the beginning and will keep on doing so. And there are definitely a lot of positive things about travelling and tourism.

But I think it’s important for individuals to take in account identity, political structures and the environmental changes being done because of tourism. Who are travelling and why? And in what ways are things changing?

The deserted Paradise beach and the tourist that leaves nothing but footprints in the sand is nothing but a utopian idea. There is no such thing as just that. For example we have to be aware of the fact that we move a lot of culture with us. The ways we watch and interpret the world are connected to our former experiences and language. No one’s a neutral individual and non political. It is never just true and pure, and it’s the same for every existing creature on earth.

There will be stories connected to our messages in the airport. Except for the airport as a context, there will be the thoughts and narratives of the passengers. And that’s about our idea, to do something that’s very simple but will carry a lot of meaning.

Kristoffer Svenberg, Stockholm 2008

                                                                                                                                 back to traces menu