Aircraft Body / Social Body 

Blair French, 2000
Catalogue essay Flight 934B

Both aircraft and airport as quintessential mainframe processors of societal flows have in recent years become ubiquitous subjects of (and sites for) contemporary art. But rarely does the ‘passenger’ feature as either individuated subject or class of social organisation as here in Matt Gallois’ Flight 934-B. Why so? Perhaps this is due to a certain incongruity introduced by the human subject that disturbs an accepted reading of the aircraft body, for example, as exemplar of French academic Marc Augé’s ‘non-places of supermodernity’: spaces created for the processing of information, goods and human bodies in which all subjects are cast as identical data units (here passengers), all individuals contracted within specific transactions. Augé’s non-places are marked by an absence of identity, relations, history or organic society—all supposed conditions of aircraft travel. It’s common-place, for example, to refer to long distance air travel as some hiatus from the conditions and apparatus of everyday life—a dislocation from the regularities of time and space, a consented subjugation to an overt structuring (and restriction) of movement, social activity and sustenance, and a suspension from and between the acculturated norms of behaviour. This is explicitly conveyed in Gallois’ photographs—a uniformity of casual dress and slumped posture; of bodies withdrawn into the trebly whine of aircraft headphones or hypnotised by the video static emanating from the front of the cabin; of couples huddling against the mass; of eyes closed or masked in determined solitude; of empty seats marked and protected as impenetrable boundaries between subjects. But even if this does convey the alienating data processing of human corporeality that Augé’s conception would suggest, is it really indicative of the aircraft as non-place, or of a photographic projection of just this expectation? Each body in Gallois’ work is systematically spaced as a photographic unit separated by white wall. But there are no such boundaries onboard a plane—legs and arms slip out into the walkways, elbows colonise armrests, bodies clamber over each other to move about, socialise, seek sustenance and refreshment or simply to urinate and defecate. The social model of the aircraft is not so unlike that supposedly left below. There’s a rudimentary spatial arrangement based on financial value. People either interact or withdraw socially depending upon existing personal predilections. People eat, sleep, read, watch, and listen because these are things people do. For sure, these now take place within a restricted, compressed and thus somewhat heightened environment, but one that remains tolerable because it is based upon existing modes of social organisaton. So, three points: First, these are not bodies suspended from time and space but rather bodies weighted by a concentrated experience of time. Second, Gallois’ work bespeaks not the total dislocation of the social body from its base, but the adaptive interaction of the dynamics of that body to the compressed, irreality of the flight experience. This may not be a site of organic society, but an adaptive, transitive social body exists nevertheless. Third, insomuch as Flight 934-B undoubtably portrays a set of isolated figures bearing the burden of their own intensified introspection, this is in no small part figured within the act of the photograph, within the artist’s application of a visuality to their proposed interiority. On one hand the apparent lack of pose reveals in fact the most heightened, unnatural sense of camera-awareness. On the other photography acts to create of these individuals a body politic of sorts—tenuous and momentary certainly, but present nevertheless.

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