Arts What’s That Smell?
posted by September 17 at 18:30 PMon
That was what I kept asking a friend who’d gone with me to the Bridge Motel Saturday night, where the soon-to-be-demolished landmark was full of artists and performers and audiences there to see off the building in style.
Rarely does an art or theater event have such powerful smells. There’s nothing abstract or indirect about a smell.
In the rotting rooms of the low-budget paradise that was erected in 1954 for traveling salesmen and this week will be razed to make way for spendy townhouses, I detected: mildew, cherries, spraypaint, sandalwood and nag champa incense, sweat, semen, Elmer’s glue, gunpowder, and much, much more, including a mysterious metallic-sweet smell coming, reportedly, from a series of microwaves “cooking a bunch of shit” behind the scenes of the Implied Violence performance.
It was a spectacle of evocation, every untouchably dirty inch of the place not blank, like a hotel wants to be, but unspeakably full of people and events and moments and touches and smells already. The whole installation, organized by D.K. Pan, was an artwork of excessive redolence, and a sense of bulging overfullness powered the night.
I don’t mean it was crowded, which I gather was a problem for plenty of people. To me, it seemed appropriate to have to stand in sweaty lines and crush up next to people in order to take in all of this too-muchness. (Note: I’m not particularly practical-minded, and I was there before dark, before things got outrageously overrun.)
For all the painful proximity of the dirty stuff itself—stained carpets, brown pillows, cracked mirrors—the one artwork that was totally distant was C. Davida Ingram’s cooking performance, the one I most wanted to see/smell/taste/touch/talk about.
I could only look through the window of the room to see a set table with wine bottles and a bowl of cut cucumbers on it, and behind that, the occasional glimpse of Ingram cooking in the kitchen. A sign on the door said “Private,” because Ingram was cooking for groups of pre-assigned people (I’d have signed up, but I was out of town), and they decided whether they wanted their meals private or public. The whole thing was based on an ad Ingram put out that said, “Black woman willing to make your favorite meal. You share the recipe. I prepare. Come hungry.” The text of that last sentence splayed on the window expanded the racial implications of the premise into startingly sexual territory, as did the “private” sign on the motel room door. Even without getting in, I loved the piece. (Does anyone care to share what went on inside?)
C. Davida Ingram’s cooking performance at Motel 1 (all photos by Alice Wheeler)
I’ve never seen so many people taking photographs at an art event as I saw at the Bridge Motel (and I just returned from the Venice Photogenic Biennale). What was that about? The best things about the Bridge Motel experience, called Motel 1 because there will be a Motel 2 this week at another location, were not visual.
Sarah Kavage’s Ghost Stumps, sculptures of white tree stumps embedded into the carpet in an homage to the site’s long past, were lovely but swallowed whole by the jostling event. Much more at home was Kaleb Hagan-Kerr and Erin Spencer’s The Darkened Chamber, a dark room that functioned as a camera obscura. It was hot in that camera, and stuffy and smelly, and a man performing behind the wall upside-down so he was projected onto the wall right-side up (and occasionally vice versa) was knocking himself around, in a slapstick and morbid dance. Voices kept saying, “There better not be drugs in there,” and “My wife is sick.”
Most at home of all the performances was Implied Violence’s Come to My Center You Enter the Winter. While I was there, a man and a woman dressed all in gold in a gold room performed episodes written in a list on the wall. The list said things like, “It’s very late on the plain in this desolate mountain state,” which presumably would trigger something in the performers, something both programmed and improvised, I imagine. During the course of the performance, they appeared to get drunk. At one point, he was spitting thick red blood-looking stuff on her, and then she was on the floor and he was pouring it on her and she was slightly choking and then he wedged his foot into her crotch and pushed her gurgling bloody self around on the disgusting carpet. There were several gunshots around this time, and the wall was stabbed, as were a few golden bags hanging from the ceiling. Oh, and by coincidence, a balding collie walked into the room, checked things out, and walked back out. It was a high point.
A low point was the endless performance of two modern-dance mimeish types wearing crepe-paper hats and looking, as my friend said, like Dexy’s Midnight Runners in slow motion as they scaled the facade and slunk around touching people with their crepe paper.
In the parking lot, people were jumping on dusty mattresses, and a white van was parked, rocking a little, and with smoke and the off-center rhythms of Tool coming out of it. It was, of course, called Don’t Come A Knockin, by Seattle School, and I heard it involved fried chicken, but I didn’t see that for myself. Neither did I see the campfire built by Jack Daws and Faith Ramos, who tore the roof of their room open to the sky and played country music along with the fire. I wish I had.
It was all there: the psychotic (Implied Violence), the nostalgic (the campfire), the cheap and playful (Seattle School), the political (Come Hungry), the creepy (a black-lit room outfitted in webs to crawl around in by Studio IoUP), and the slightly mad (the camera obscura performer). Adding to that was Pan’s own installation in Room #7 at the top of the stairs in the corner, a room painted a painfully bright color red and turned into a beach of salt. Clothing and notes were buried in the salt, including a letter to an inmate at King County Jail and a note to a drug addict. Where did these come from? I didn’t know, but since Pan has been manager at the hotel for a year, I didn’t think it was far-fetched to conclude they might be documents of the real past. “What was yours about? Mine was about pills,” one woman asked another, both holding notes they’d pulled from within the salt. “Really? Mine was, like, somebody lost.”
It all made me wish they were going to burn it down rather than tear it down.
Motel 2: I’ll be there.
And tomorrow: the previously scheduled programming of Part 2 of “Artempo” from Venice.