Last week, artist Michelle Pred celebrated the anniversary of the Patriot Act by dressing up as an old-timey Pan Am flight attendant (she wore her mother's old Pan Am hat!) and handing out "Official Air Travel Replacement Knives" to people waiting for their bags at SFO (she had 50 knives, but it took more than 50 tries to give them away, as more than half of the people she approached refused to engage with her).
She had to get a "Free Speech and Expressive Activities Permit" for her performance, and the lengthy application process gave her time to figure out which knives she'd pass out: she chose 2.25" red pocket knives, these being the kind of knife most often seized by the TSA. The people who took the knives often share stories lamenting the beloved tools, knives and other items they'd had taken away by airport security since the Patroit Act was passed.
Pred is part of a large, multi-artist show in San Francisco's Presidio called "Home Land Security," which features works that critically examine "the human dimensions and increasing complexity of national security, including the physical and psychological borders we create, protect, and cross in its name."
Her installation for the show is "Encirclement": a giant circle of items taken away by US airport security staff. Encirclement features a lot of scissors, as these are often seized (I own a small, beautiful sculpture of a spider made from TSA-confiscated scissors by artist Chris Locke, who also made the Draw Like an Artist book I featured a few days back).
Dressed as a 1960s-era flight attendant (complete with an original hat worn by Pan Am stewardesses — one of whom was her mother), Pred returned to travelers one of the most commonly confiscated items in airport security lines. The performance was, of course, sanctioned: she had received permission from the airport, obtaining a Free Speech and Expressive Activities Permit after a long application process. She specifically chose the two and a quarter-inch red knives as they are the most common of all those that TSA officers seize. To her, though small, the utilitarian object and the response its presence provokes at airports speak volumes about security culture.
"The text that I had printed on them was intended as a somewhat humorous way of driving home the notion that our focus on security has not only taken things away from us, but has not clearly explained what it has given back," Pred told Hyperallergic.
On Anniversary of the Patriot Act, Artist Passes Out Pocket Knives at the Airport