My son Andreas has lent his voice to a building structure, housing the secretive ‘3rd terminal’ at London’s Gatwick Airport. This is where illegal immigrants are detained for months to the deafening sound of jet engines, before they are deported back to where they came from. “In fact the noise is so loud that the local plan says humans shouldn’t live here. And officially they don’t. They’re detained,” the Terminal says, calculating that a detainee on average is staying at the center for 59 days, receiving 45.843 jet roaring reminders of their imminent destiny.
On my blog today, I invite you to meet the Talking Terminal as a video essay, in which Andreas has summed up his Master’s dissertation in Sociology at the University of London.
Please click here for the video I AM ONLY PRESENT. The full text follows below.
Text, audio & video works by Andreas Løppenthin
If you come from London, you’ll go through the airport terminal. You get off the train and tap your contactless card on the ticket gates. That gets you out of the station and into the airport arrival hall. It will probably be busy. Passenger buggies zigzag in between travellers pullingsuitcases and children. If you follow the exit signs, you will be guided to the wrong bus stops.
You’ll be confused. Eventually you will see your bus out the window, and ask someone who looks sufficiently official how to reach it. They’ll point you down an empty corridor, through an emergency exit and down a dodgy stairway.
It gets you to the side of the highway, where the local busses stop. The bus driver sells you a ticket to go one stop, to the other side of the airport. You get off in a roundabout. The cars are swooshing by.
You run across the road when there is a gap in the traffic, and you spot me on the other side ofa meadow. You don’t want to disturb the cows, so you walk down the road instead. Past Monica’s Burger Bar, and into the industrial estate. You pass my neighbours Acro Aircraft Seating, RS Components, World Duty Free DistributionCentre, Gate Gourmet. They produce things, store them, process them.
So do I. We’re all in that business around here, storing, producing, processing. Food, chocolate, furniture, humans.
I’m a building. Brook House Immigration Removal Centre is my name. I don’t normally have a voice, but I’ve borrowed one for now. I sit on Perimeter Road, which runs around Gatwick Airport. It’s restricted area. All though there is no gate, a big blue sign at the end of Old Brighton Road will tell you that only authorized persons are allowed to go further. Perimeter road is technically part of the airport.
G4S take care of me on a day-to-day basis, so they’re the authorities I’m used to. They take their orders form the Home Office who had me built, but they rarely come and see me. They sit in offices somewhere else and decide what happens.
It’s complicated. And being inside the airport boundary doesn’t make it easier to figure out. Perimeter Road lives up to its name: a border, a boundary, a strange not quite public not quite private space.
I look at the planes taking off and landing. 777 a day. 32 per hour. One every other minute. When I was built, the council were worried.
“The building would be 200 meters from the main runway and would therefore be subject to high levels of aircraft noise.”
That’s what they said. But of course they weren’t worried about me, but the humans I’m holding. They’re the ones with ears. In fact the noise is so loud that the local plan says humans shouldn’t live here. And officially they don’t. They’re detained.
Because of the “limited time occupation of the building by individual detainees”, the council decided that the noise was going to be okay. It’s strange to be reading your own planning applications. Maybe that’s what humans would feel like if they could hear their parents discussing whether or not they should have children.
The plans didn’t specify what “limited time occupation meant”, but from what I’ve been told the humans weren’t supposed to stay more than 72 hours. But planning’s one thing, management another. They stay here for weeks, months, sometimes even years. In 2017, the humans that came here stayed an average of 59 days. That’s 45.843 aircraft movements. 45.843 reminders of their imminent removal. Or of the places they can’t go.
Normally the council doesn’t allow buildings for humans this close to the runway. But apparently I was put here so that the Home Office could more conveniently get the humans on planes and sendthem away. And that was one of the main conditions for approving me. But as far as I’ve been told, only half of the humans that come through me actually end up leaving the country.
Everyone is very secretive about it, but the ones that do get removed seem to leave from other airports than Gatwick. I’ve heard of a place called the Inflight Jet Centre. It’s a terminal for private jets at Stansted Airport. After hours, that’s what I’ve heard, it’s transformed into an eviction hub. Charted flights leave for Lagos, Tirana, Dhaka, Delhi, in the dark of the night.
I wonder if I would be the same building if I hadn’t been standing next to the runway all those years. If I’m doing the math right, almost three million planes passed me since I was opened. On the inside, I’m metallic. There’s always someone banging my doors, and a constant jangling of keys. Tables and chairs are fixed to my floors. I can hold 508 humans. Some are asylum seekers, some are students, some are doctors, some areworkers, some have been to prison, some are parents. Some just got to the country; some have been here their whole life.
No one has seen a judge.
They share the rooms two or three together. Well, actually they’re more like cells. There’s a TV on the wall, and a toilet between the beds. Sometimes there’s a curtain around it. The windows are sealed shut. Doors are locked between 9 PM and 8 AM. Around noon, everyone is locked upagain so the guards can count them.
During the day, my humans can go outside in to small, enclosed courtyards. Here they can feel the air, but only look at the sky. I block the horizon with my walls and barbed wire fences. The humans are spread on five wings, over three floors. There was supposed to be open air between them. But because of the way humans feel in here, they’ve put out netting.
Sometimes when the humans are really frustrated, they go out onto the netting and refuse to come back. It’s the only place the guards can’t go. The netting takes away the option of suicide, but offers an isolated space of untouchability.
A space of self-determined in-betweeness, a temporary escape from the detention centre rules and the manager’s exceptions; from the entrapment of waiting that saturates the environment that I create, I’ve been told that a human’s social status can be measured in how much they have to wait.
In here, that’s all you do. No one in here knows how long they’ll stay, not even the guards, not even the managers. It’s decided in offices far away from me. If time is a river, then I’m the brook that’s stopped flowing.
The past and the future is somewhere else. I am only present. I am a factory that produces removables. I am the embodiment of a political structure that moves the border from a boundary fence and inscribes it on the human body. A structure that allows some bodies to flow seamlessly through the world, while others are stuck in the goo of globalization.
I keep the removables hidden in plain sight. Concealed to mend the guilty consciousness of citizens, but right at the heart of business and pleasure, as a wart on the happy faces of cosmopolitanism.
Behind my walls, you’re stuck but being moved, you’ve left but you’re still here, you’re near but far. On the last day of June, a man fell from a plane approaching Heathrow Airport and landed in a garden of a 2.3 million GBP house in Clapham.
The plane was a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi. When searching the plane, the police found a bag, food and water in the landing gear compartment. The man had packed and planned for the journey. He presumably froze to death during the nine-hour flight. If he had survived, it’s likely that the man would have ended up behind my walls.
From the underbelly of a plane to the wings of a building. I’m where you go if you move in the wrong way. I’m Gatwick’s third terminal, I’m the flip side of Generation Easy Jet. If you’re lucky enough not to be forced here, and G4S don’t respond to your research inquiries, it’s going to be hard for you to get any closer than the intersection between Old Brighton and Perimeter Road. You could get a flight to Gatwick and hope that you get a window seat. If thewind direction is on your side, then you might be able to spot me as the plane lands. Or you can go down Charlwood Road, and try to get a glimpse of my back.
You’ll have a hard time distinguishing me from my neighbours. Same industrial appearance, same CCTV cameras. You can look at the trees and the bushes that almost hide the barbed wire. You might think the 5-meter fence is a bit extensive for a warehouse. Or you might not.
You will see what is probably my two southern most wings. You will see that someone decided that one wing should be green, and another orange.You walk out onto the meadow to avoid the cars rushing past. A big pile of dirt and something that looks like horse dung covers the western end where you enter. Maybe it’s raining now, perhaps the cows have left for cover. From here, you can get a better view of me.
You can see that my windows are barred. You can see that a net covers the yards between the buildings, as an extension of the fence and the walls that enclose them. You can see the planes taking off in the grey drizzle. It looks like they are emerging out of me.
In spite of the constant hum of the highway behind you, you can hear the planes getting ready for take-off and speeding up. And then suddenly, they burst out from behind my grey roof. If you’re filming, you can zoom in close and tell whether it’s a Norwegian, British Airways, or maybe an EasyJet flight. But you have to be quick, because they race for the sky, disappearinginto the clouds long before the roar of their engines fade.
i am only present
goldsmiths, university of london 2019