The Phoenix Runway

Group Exhibition
18 February - 2 April 2022

Exhibition Opening: Friday 18 February 2022
Exhibition Closure: Saturday 2 April 2022

The Phoenix Runway was never intended to host a commercial airport. While it still isn’t clear if the construction of the highest funded art-tech collaborative experiment of the 21st century was a manoeuvre from the start, we know that it was the birth-place of the insurgency. Once the McMurdo Ice Shelf discharged into the ocean, the potential the Runway offered as an ungoverned, stateless space provided unique potentials for international travel. In agreement with the Manifesto, The Runway supported its development.

The industrial design of the waiting lounge, benches set with armrests every half-a-metre, discourages any sense of long-term comfort. I shift stiffly. A digital flight map overhead shows aircrafts congregating around a central point, cutting off the undesirable “rest of the world”. I think of Orwell’s Airfield One, fiction becoming fact and fiction again. Following two pings, the announcement comes from the generically pleasant female voice I have endured at differing intervals over the course of my 14 hour layover: “We have grown into a phenomenal force”. I fidget again, uncomfortably pressured into identifying with her collective “We”.

My screen vibrates, notifying me of the directional route change of a satellite I’ve been following. I tap into its gaze, currently focussed on a dark and curiously luminescent landscape. Flicking through a series of abstract aerial photographs, the concentric lines and wind formations, spreading like feathers across the stone, looks soothing. I zoom until the app identifies the site: the Athabasca tar sands. Watching the unctuous pools and abandoned roads, my eyes start to find shapes, then limbs, then letters, a slanted serpentine script that seems to be the Earth itself, communicating… The intercom voice goes off again, this time jolting me into instruction as I rush off to my departure gate.

Regulated by artists, in consultation with architects, scientists and activists, The Phoenix Runway has continued existing as various reinventions of its previous forms, providing the emergent practical function of a non-geographical transportation hub. Following the bright green ideals of technogaianism, the Runway is known as a convergence point for abstract thinking and creative resolution. Above all, the space is a testament to resilience, the individual, and more nuanced ways of belonging.

The world from above has the virtue of abstraction. Human civilisations, presented as ordered formations, offer Earthlings a sense of control. Compositions from this vantage point present the unifying idea of governance, and its calculated use can be very convincing – that we’re all in this together, that we should set aside our differences and face our common challenges. But the techno-scientific objective of mapping human ecologies as an innocent picture was always going to be militarised. Its language is that of subterfuge, giving currency to a logic that exploits our perception of responsibility. A view from the top makes everything look so small. Like ants, we become the functions of a single unit. Zoom in and the parameters of human existence are fitted with barbed wire and remote access gates.

From my usual window seat, I gaze out over the wing of the craft, dipping intermittently beneath the cloud cover. I know that much of it has stayed the same. Even so, I know its creators are out there, supporting the shift into another new, yet unnamed epoch. A world with fewer flags. An existence of more compassion. I look up as the air hostess hands me the Manifesto for entry. “Remember – we are not equally responsible”, she cites, both an accusation and an entreaty, depending on the listener.

The Phoenix Runway is a group exhibition curated by RESERVOIR, in collaboration with WHATIFTHEWORLD.

Participating artists include:

Mia Chaplin
Stephané E. Conradie
Dominique Edwards
Jeanne Gaigher
Jeanne Hoffman
Ferdinand Kidd
Dale Lawrence
Strauss Louw
Maja Marx
Michele Mathison
Sepideh Mehrabahn
Unathi Mkonto
Asemahle Ntlonti
John Phalane
Inga Somdyala