Is the Zeitgeist Underground?

by Hrag Vartanian on February 20, 2012

A photo collage by Roger Hiorns of Untitled (Buried passenger aircraft) 1999-2011 (via

We were quite surprised that our February 13 post on Christoph Büchel’s “Terminal” project, titled “Artist to Bury an Airplane Underground and Call It Art,” was as popular as it was. But what really floored us was that the idea is not original at all (our commenters pointed that out: 1, 2) and there are two other projects, one by Roger Hiorns and another by a larger group that are unified by the goal to “Bury the Jumbo,” that are essentially doing the same thing.

In an interview Hiorns explained his project was not a form of mass entertainment but as a study in psychology:

“I think in a way there’s a lot of art as entertainment at the moment and when you embark on a big project it can be difficult to translate that. But this is not a spectacle in terms of the old-fashioned sense. It doesn’t allow you a visual experience. And in a way I disagree with flying, I disagree with it psychologically. It started out as being fearful, but because I have to fly I have to take sedatives so it’s me doing away with an object that I feel is not doing me any good. It’s not entirely clear what degree of ‘alive’ we are, as we continue to fly, it’s certainly a suspension of being. But I think it’s important to take on a stand on something. I think it’s interesting as a completely irrational response to something I dislike.”

I don’t buy it. It’s spectacle for better or worse and the psychological dimension, at least in the way he is describing it, seems a little trite to me. What fascinates me is how three different people (or groups) can be engaged in the same rather specific idea at the same moment. Does this make the whole “bury the plane” thing a zeitgeist moment? And what does it mean?

We know that in ancient civilizations burial rituals were a crucial part of the culture and while today the process of burial is less cloaked in mystery than it may have been in Ancient Egypt, it is still a powerful community event. But what do you get from burying a symbol of the modern age and an object that once represented total freedom and today less so because of hijackings and terrorist attacks?

This “bury the plane” moment reminded me of a bar from a decade ago on East Houston, Idlewild, which was named after the former name of JFK airport and contained airplane seats for its customers. It was a good gimmick that made it stand out from the other bars in the area but it was nothing more than that. I wonder what an underground plane will do and why we should care? Something tells me I should reread the 1977 classic Learning from Las Vegas.

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  • Don Edler

    what does it mean if the Zeitgeist moment is defined by a project that no one could elevate beyond the level of spectacle? 

  • moseshawk

    Malcolm Gladwell’s article “In The Air” who says big ideas are rare?  This article from 2008 covers this phenomena of different people coming up with the same idea. 

  • There’s a lot of truth in the old adage that you can never have an idea that others are not having at the same time.  It use to be that primacy went to the person who had access to the network that allowed the idea to be realized.  Now everyone has access to the internet but posting the idea is not quite the same as actually doing it.

  • Frederick Brummer

    Perhaps this indicates a new trend in travel.

  • Niklaus Lenz

    Büchel is working on his buried airplane project “Terminal” for over ten years. The project was featured by a Swiss TV station that showed also one of his frozen spaces, which we were done long time before Hiorn’s similar work “Seizure”, who seems obviously into Büchel’s work. Seems not so easy to do such an unusual art project in the remote desert of California in the context of mines and aviation/military industry and get a permit for it but it looks like he finally succeeded.

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