The Jacksonville International Airport’s Concourse C is often filled with travelers hustling to and from their scheduled flights. Amidst the foot traffic stand a pair of bathrooms, but the unique artwork they display is often overlooked.
What passersby don’t realize is these bathrooms showcase an inclusive set of pictographs: each tile represents the many shapes and forms of the restrooms’ users. But these tiles haven’t always been there.
JIA decided to commission this inclusive art project in 2008. It awarded the opportunity to Atlanta artist Gregor Turk, who specializes in sculpture, public art installations, photography and works on paper. His proposed design for the space included a series of 1-foot tiles featuring 68 unique pictograms.
“The public was introduced to the now ubiquitous pictograms of men and women in 1974 as a means of efficient standardized restroom signage. For years I have made wax-oil rubbings or taken photographs of these pictograms,” Turk said. “Even the most standard pictograms vary in their width, cut of the arms, broadness of the shoulders, and distance or connectivity of the head to the body.”
Turk began to document the wide range of gendered figures during his travels, and concluded that, at facilities that employ a greater sense of design, highly stylized pictograms tend to reflect a much greater range of body types, shapes, proportions and activities
“When the images of the respective figures are shown collectively, their typological differences become apparent, even amusing,” Turk said. “The pictograms I used as a source for [the JIA] installation came from Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Syria and the United States.”
So when the airport submitted a call request for proposals, Turk strongly considered the pictogram piece he envisioned and subsequently applied. He took an assortment of both well and poorly designed pictograms, formatted them in Adobe Illustrator to be similar in size, and output them as stencils.
Once JIA accepted his proposal, Turk used the stencils to apply a black glaze onto commercial 1-square-foot white glazed tiles. The artist then fired the tiles in his studio kiln. Turk hired local installers and oversaw the process in person. The project took several months to complete.
“The collection of pictograms can be read as a piece about destinations, since the pictograms came from cities all over the globe, which is perfect for an airport such as JIA,” Turk said. “I would like viewers to consider that there is no standard; what we think of as a simple standard figure is in fact loaded with cultural references and biases.”
His goal was always to provide viewers with a little amusement and perhaps even a smile. Even though this installation has been around for more than 10 years, Turk hopes it continues to leave viewers with a lasting impression.
“Having a permanent installation up at JIA is a professional delight,” Turk said. “As with my installation at the [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport], knowing that my artwork is continually communicating with viewers is richly rewarding.”
Since his commission at JIA, Turk’s work has been mentioned in the Huffington Post and featured on NBC's Today Show. The artist has also completed other projects, including a plate set with glazed decals of 25 different pictograms. More recently, he has combined his pictograph designs with rubbings of car emblems (a project which he has dubbed “Fender Identities”).
For more information on his work, visit: http://gregorturk.com/.