Schiphol Clock

I am, once again, in transit at Schiphol airport. It is 3.54 pm. I have a few minutes for a coffee and a snoop about before a connecting flight. There’s always something interesting to discover here like big luggage people.

Schiphol Clock 1

I see a guy cleaning a big clock suspended from the ceiling. He seems to be wiping the clock-face from the inside. I can’t understand why so many people have their smart phones directed upwards.

Schiphol Clock 2

He’s obviously taking the job seriously as he’s removed the minute hand to give that frosted glass a good polish! I go to find a coffee.

Schiphol Clock 3

At 4.03 pm I am striding towards my departure gate and pass the clock again. The guy is still cleaning away. People are still fascinated. He then serves up a surprise!

Schiphol Clock 4

With a rubber window-cleaning blade, at 4.04 pm, he scrapes off the minute hand …..

Schiphol Clock 5

….. and repaints it one minute later with a small roller. I grasp what this is about. He has been doing this all along minute by minute. This is a performance in real time. Lordielord! This is brilliant! I am riveted.

Schiphol Clock 6

Entranced, I watch him wipe away and repaint a slightly advanced hour hand. Inevitably, a series of questions run through my head. Is there someone really inside that box? How does he get in there? Is he an “artist” or an employee? Does he get a break? Is there a change of shift every hour or so?

Schiphol Clock 7

I am now late for my flight but I have to satisfy my curiosity. I look up at the back of the massive clock. Sure enough, there is a ladder and a door. It seems the guy really is inside. I run grinning like an idiot. My heart sings. I have just witnessed creative genius on a grand public scale. This makes my day.

Later internet research tells me this is the work of Dutch designer Maarten Baas. It is one of his “Real Time” series. For his “performance,” Baas wears a blue overall and uses a red bucket and a yellow cleaning cloth all in solidarity with all those folk who keep the airport spotless.

Inevitably – and with only a little disappointment – I learn that this is a precisely synchronised 12 hour-long video performance projected within a stainless steel box. The ladder and door into the “clock” build an illusion of reality; the viewer is led to imagine the guy descending from a hatch in the ceiling and locking himself into the box to do his job.

I just love how Schiphol goes to such lengths to bring beautiful stuff to travel-weary passengers. Admirable! Fabulous! Thrilling!

Watch the video!

Big luggage people at Amsterdam airport

I am in transit at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Everyone is in a controlled rush. Irritated travellers swerve around me when I stop to take a photo of two huge figures that sit in the middle of the walkway. Before I too move on, I feel the surface of a massive bronze shoulder; it is cold and assertive. I tap my knuckle against it and am rewarded with a satisfying note, deep and rich.

Big luggage people

Tom Claassen “Two incredible sitting black snowmen” Bronze 2000

I have seen Tom Claassen‘s “Two incredible sitting black snowmen” before. I wasn’t wowed. However, finding them here really grabs my attention and flicks the mental switch on a little bit of neuronal circuitry that tells me “This is beautiful stuff!” I guess it’s about context.

Claassen’s figures look like two tired people. Their sitting pose is weighty but anatomic nevertheless. I am reminded of a couple of breathless fat kids after PE. At the same time, with their seams and soft corners, they represent battered baggage waiting to be collected. The in-context appeal comes from the fact that they represent us, how we feel and what we take with us when we travel. Passengers and luggage, as far as airlines and airports are concerned, are commodities that have to be moved around efficiently. Inevitably, our air travel experience involves total depersonalisation. So, just look at the lack of any human expression on the faces of our bronze friends!

Another subliminal bobs to the surface. It’s the fat kid thing combined with the resemblance to couches upon which we sit and watch television. The western world is currently gripped by an epidemic of obesity. Hence, these figures are totally contemporary in their placement at Schipol. With a kind of tired ambivalence we just accept the  inconvenience and discomfort of air travel as we expect convenient access to comfort food.

No surprise that, given the chance, I would rename Claassen’s masterpiece “Big luggage people.” Bravo team Classens – Schipol!

An extinct car in Schiphol airport!


I hurry through Amsterdam’s crowded Schiphol airport late for my flight connection. Whooaaaaa! What’s that? I snap a photo. Others do the same. I assume the airport authorities have commissioned some contemporary sculpter to lighten the mood of stressed travellers. But, no! This is an advertisement for Sixt Car Rentals. Well…. they certainly caught my eye. The wooden board reads: “Thanks to Sixt, expensive car rentals are extinct.” Bravo, Sixt! Nice idea!

It works. I love the skeletal dinosaur theme implying extinction. Yet it’s clearly based on a reasonably modern car. And it makes me laugh. I particularly like the spoiler and the little boney rear-view mirror. But of course, it’s basic appeal (for me at least) is because of it’s immediate association with The Flintstones. Talking of whom…. I understand that a recent survey of Middle Eastern countries about American television reveals that the people in Kuwait don’t like Fred Flintstone, but the people in AbuDhabidoooooooo!