How to describe an airport?

Airports are very similar all the world over. Regional differences are reduced to the souvenirs that you can buy in the gift shop.

Airports are also out-of-time. To facilitate long-distance travel by train or by plane, time zones were created, breaking down the natural connection between time and location.

For all those reasons, you could say that the airport cuts a hole in the local landscape. That is why it is often represented as a hatched surface on the map. A hole that is not, like a rabbit hole, leading down into a bottomless black, but one that is leading up, into an infinite blue.

In order to describe a hole, you have to circumscribe it.

Circling around

I walk around large international airports and invite people to join me.

We do not walk directly around the fence, but along roads and paths that are close to the airport. Two basic rules are followed during the walk:

  1.  We ignore the airport and the planes. Participants are not allowed to mention them, nor to point at them or to take pictures of them. This is to avoid getting distracted from our focus on the immediate surroundings (that said … what you suppress has a tendency to reappear via the back door …)

  2.  We keep the exact solar time. This is the time for which noon corresponds with the sun being at its highest point in the sky. As we walk east or west, we adjust our watch on several occasions, restoring the particularity of time at each place.

Before the walk …

… I draw the route on a topographical map, but I do not walk the route beforehand. When looking at the symbols on the map – of rivers, forests, villages, buildings – my imagination is set to work, creating a landscape out of this limited amount of data. Equally powerful are the place names; I cannot help but create an image in my head of these unknown places, based on nothing more than their name (just like I cannot refrain from imagining the person behind the names of the participants that I never met before).


After the walk …

… we meet again with all the participants and create a collaborative report of our explorations. One participant chooses a picture and writes a corresponding title, on which another participant can react with another picture with a title, and so on. Initially, chronology and the exact locations of the events are ignored.

Once the report is finished, I relocate the contributions on the map of our walk. To this I add a series of place names that are indicated on the topographical map. The exploration is given back to the world of symbols and language from where it came.


09.09.2017 - Vienna VIE (organized by the Perinetkeller - IODE)

10.09.2016 - Birmingham BHX (organized by the Still Walking Festival)

22-23.08.2014 - Paris Charles De Gaulle CDG (organized by WAB, Nadine)

16.08.2014 - Brussels South (Charleroi) Airport CRL (organized by WAB, Nadine)

04.10.2013 - London Heathrow LHR

01.06.2013 -  Düsseldorf DUS

15.10.2011 -  Brussels Zaventem BRU


Circling around (without taking off)

A series of walks around international airports

Bruno De Wachter

Built with Berta