With the exception of a tiny percentage that travel by boat, most Australians and visitors making a journey to or from our shores will use the airport. Over 35 million passengers a year pass through Sydney Airport; it is the most fluid point of our liquid borders. If one were to map emotion across the city, surely its International Terminal would be the most concentrated mix of longing and sadness, excitement and joy. 35 million times a year people say goodbye, greet old friends and lovers, step into the unknown.
For those who leave, the airport is fluid, transitional and fleeting – a portal to somewhere else. But what of those who stay? Watching as you step beyond the milky glass wall designating the customs area I feel the limits of my own movement acutely. This benign point in the midst of suburbia is the true point of passage on this island nation. Once you step beyond this arbitrary threshold I cannot reach you by land. I am starkly aware of our isolation – what if all planes were to be grounded? How would we overcome this distance?
This moment of separation is aesthetic. It is a total experience, the distribution of the sensible in my world shifts, to borrow from Ranciere. It is bright unforgiving lights, neutral tones and monotone voices crackling over the loudspeaker. It is the tightening of my chest as you kiss me goodbye, the series of photographs we take of you under the ‘Departure’ sign, backpack on. It is allegorical of love itself –intense and particular and yet so quotidian, so painfully common. I am but one of millions that stay. You are but one of millions that go.
I imagine you flying above this country, surveying the complete isolation of our land. Literally rising above this closed circle I remain within. Aesthetically, this experience is not contained in the banality of the airport’s interior. We are Abramovic and Ulay walking the Great Wall of China. You are Bas Jan Ader In Search of the Miraculous and I watch helplessly as you sail away. I am Tilda Swinton in a glass box; I sleep and wait. From this liminal nonplace we play out grand narratives.
In our day to day lives we rarely think of our nation from above, the vast distances that characterise our mobility and connection to the world. This isolation is brought into sharp focus by those minute movements with which you pass beyond my reach – one, two, three steps and you are gone – the metaphoric start of an actual separation. Only those who stay truly feel these certain qualities of this island nation. I experience a loss that is nissological. I stand amidst an island and look to that most porous and emotionally charged point, the International Terminal, bellybutton of our land. I wait. We all wait.