Chance & Air Traffic

Chance & Air Traffic

The view of incoming air traffic from my studio. The sky looks clear, but you can see it's only a temporary pause.

The view of incoming air traffic from my studio as seen with a flight tracker app. The sky looks clear, but you can see it’s only a temporary pause.

For three years my studio was located right next to Interstate 75 in Ohio. I sorta became obsessed with that highway and would often find myself watching the cars speed by. But my obsession was not limited to the occasional break in my day. I may or may not have downloaded a police scanner app to get the low down on traffic and minor slow downs in general. I would even text friends mini traffic reports complete with road conditions. As strange as it may sound, that highway became a comforting constant that always reminded me of the world beyond whatever it was I was focused on in the moment.

One of the first days in my studio in Chicago I looked out of the window and saw a massive airplane flying over. Then I saw another. And another. I’m talking a low flying, you can almost see the name of the airline, airplanes. I was intrigued. After 20 minutes and a bit of googling I discovered that my studio is now right on a flight path to O’Hare Airport. I immediately remembered my love of I-75 and I was thrilled with this new transportation crush. Over the past couple months I’ve discovered a lot, like the air traffic is heaviest on weekend mornings and tapers off in the afternoon. Even at peak air traffic it’s a thousand times quieter than the highway. I began to wonder where these massive plans were traveling so I downloaded a flight tracker app and became a bit of an amateur bird watcher.

I’d hoped to incorporate this new love into my work but I didn’t quite know how. Then I was given a project in my Conceptual Strategies course that centered around chance processes. Chance processes have been used by artists like John Cage as a framework for assisting in decision making. Conceptual Strategies is a studio course where we explore various processes, methods, and approaches to the creation of art. It’s been a really valuable course because it’s given me a fresh perspective along with a plethora of new tools to experiment with. We have also had projects that center around list-making and others inspired by maps and observation. I decided to use the air traffic above my studio as the chance process to determine several key compositional elements of my project.

First, with the help of the flight tracker app I created a list of all the airplanes flying over my studio during a 60 minute time span on a Saturday morning in late October.

The list!

The list!

The information that I complied was the foundation of the work and informed the decisions I made when creating it. For example, there were 34 flights listed and I created a piece composed of a series of 34 collages in total. I assigned colors, red and blue, to correlate to the domestic or international destination the plane was arriving from. I utilized the speed the airplane was moving to determine the number of elements I collaged together. Here is the final piece:

A tiny collaged box full of mini 3x3 inch collages!

A tiny collaged box full of mini 3×3 inch collages!

A look at a few of the collages in the piece I made using chance.

A look at a few of the collages in I made using chance.

The thing about this piece is that it never would have even occurred to me to make it prior to Conceptual Strategies. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in my practice and the opportunity to try different approaches has been really enlightening. Adding an element of chance to my practice has freed me up some to go outside my normal. It’s a lot like looking out the window and realizing there’s a thousand people driving by or flying overhead. There’s a whole different world out there.