Summer 2002

Artist Project / Travelfest Is Closed

Hard-copy tickets to nowhere

Michael Smith and Nathan Heiges

I had mixed feelings when I read the Austin American-Statesman’s headline in late August 2001 announcing Motorola’s layoff of 3,000 employees. I was flying to Austin, Texas, to live in what was supposed to be one of the fastest growing and hippest towns in America. Housing was scarce and expensive. Maybe the recession would help me find a place to live.

Friends helped me locate a sublet for the first semester. Their description of a loft in a quiet housing complex over-looking a swimming pool filled with young lovelies sounded good, but in reality it was a bit off the mark. The place looked more like a Red Roof Inn with dirty socks on the railings. On the first night I learned that the pool was not used until 2 am, when I awoke to the squeals of co-ed merriment and a chorus of screeching tires.

Shortly after sunrise, while on a reconnaissance for strong coffee, I discovered Travelfest. When I looked through the large store windows, it seemed more like an abandoned theme park than a travel agency. I noticed a kiosk, travel posters, and a lot of colorful Formica surfaces, perfect for endorsing traveler’s checks and filling out luggage tags. I was not quite sure if this space was used for photo shoots, trade shows, or training sessions for future travel agents. There was a blankness about it that told me absolutely nothing. The only thing that was certain was what was written on the sign: “Travelfest is closed.” Over the next couple of weeks, every time I passed Travelfest I’d imagine people costumed as travel agents, tourists, and baggage handlers going about their business as if they were extras in some Technicolor movie. I fantasized about renting this space to preserve it for others to experience Travelfest like I did, forgetting about their worries and projecting themselves into some dream landscape.

After a few weeks in Austin my attitudes toward my surroundings started to shift. I was fatigued by the late-night pool parties, and by the realization that having a new job at the university meant that I actually had to work. Then the events of September 11 changed my perceptions. Travelfest’s mute and frozen quality took on a look of tragedy. All of a sudden I felt lucky to have my job.

Now I fantasize about raising public funds to preserve Travelfest as a monument, a reminder of the persistence of failed dreams and the hope that fuels them, a three-dimensional version of an Internet site where they dispense hard-copy tickets to nowhere.

Text written by Michael Smith

Michael Smith is an artist based in New York.

Nathan Heiges is an artist based in Austin, Texas.

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