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Monday, September 17, 2007

What’s That Smell?

posted by on September 17 at 18:30 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


Wow… we really have come a long way since this:
and this
It’s unbelievable what crap (literally) passes for art.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | September 17, 2007 7:12 PM

thanks for coming, jen...
just to clarify, the Motel series is the brainchild of myself, Mike Min, and Liza Keckler.

Posted by dk pan | September 17, 2007 7:20 PM

The one pot mention inspired my chili and dumplings dinner tonight. Art, you just keep on giving.

Posted by Katelyn | September 17, 2007 7:57 PM

People take pictures like crazy everywhere now. I got a digital camera last year, and I take pictures of fucking everything. Like it's the only way I'm ever going to remember anything/.

Posted by Pictures | September 17, 2007 9:52 PM

I can't go for the oversensory scene anymore. If I'd read the Phil Lesh memoir, which details his involvement/perception of the mid 60s acid tests, before this year.

There's some of my drawings from last year, as well as a song from 2004 - Harry Partch is the icing - at the old voxSite.

Posted by June Bee | September 17, 2007 10:35 PM

You got too much sex on the brain if you thought 'come hungry' in that context implied a sexual meaning.

Posted by arandomdude | September 18, 2007 12:10 AM

The website says that the owners of Motel #2 freaked out, and now it's going to be completely virtual. I was looking forward to #2 as I drive by Motel #1 every day but was out of town last weekend. I really hope that Tubs is still on for Motel #3.

Posted by left coast | September 18, 2007 9:13 AM

I was down at the scene on Saturday night along with the hordes of others to witness some sort of event. I had no real expectations. I was one of those who didn't get a chance to see inside the rooms because by the time I arrived it was way too crazy crowded.

But the experience really made me think and consider a bunch of things about art and Seattle after I got home. First of all, what was it about the event that attracted so many people? I was discussing with a friend and we both admitted that we were just fascinated by the building, having lived next to it in Fremont for years. And we also concluded that we just wanted a chance to go inside before it was demolished. That simple. Just to enter the motel. It was a fascinatingly horrible kind of place to walk by and drive be nearly every day.

So, not to take anything away from what appeared to be some creative installations and performances, I wonder if we need to have more opportunities to celebrate or mourn the end of buildings, not just great ones, but terrible ones too, with or without art and performances. Given the accelerating rate of building destruction in Seattle, it seems that our somewhat permanent surroundings have become temporary to the degree that it is very disturbing.

A second thought is just about the lack of real events, spontaneous unpredictable participatory events in the art and performance world. I don’t have any brilliant ideas to create such events, but just note that there seems to be a pretty healthy appetite for it.

On that note, I hope that someone is planning an event connected to the demolition of the Rainier Cold Storage in Georgetown. Anyone?

Posted by Romabella | September 18, 2007 5:34 PM

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