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2007 01 17
Angle of Incident #38: Stacked Hotel Room

By Gary Michael Dault

Most people, stopping at a hotel, restrict their interactions with their room to a few imported acts of domesticity: they hang up their clothes, they “lay out their stuff” in the bathroom (as comedian George Carlin used to put it) and maybe turn on the TV. They eat the foil-wrapped chocolates on the pillows. Their experience of the room is rapid, casual; their impact on it—and its impact on them—no more than a clutch of glancing blows, a sort of mutualized glissando of experience. Sometimes, when they vacate the room, they take something with them: stealing soap, or towels, or the white terrycloth bathrobe is a way, I suppose, of leaving a mark on the place in reverse. We existed there because the room is now less than it was.

For British art duo Adam Dade and Sonya Hanney, who live and work in Bristol, England, and whose work is now being exhibited at Toronto’s Gallery 44, a hotel room is not an oasis of calm, an urban pause, an architectural breathing-space. Rather, the room becomes an arena of frenetic and, in a sense, centripetal activity—in which, during a maelstrom of analysis, rearrangement, stacking, compressing, compacting, Dade and Hanney utterly transform the room: every element and object in it being bound up together, the room’s appointments congested by accretion, agglomerated into a sort of denser version of itself: after which the process of agglomeration is undone again, reversed into a re-dispersion of the compacted room, all of its stacked and balanced elements separated and, like a film running backwards, repositioned and replaced, all passion spent.

Simon Morrissey, in a prefatory essay to the duo’s exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England in 2003, describes their activities with admirable sang-froid: “Each of the ten versions of Stacked Hotel Rooms that have now taken place [ie up until 2003] gave had the same parameters. The artists check into a given hotel. They familiarize themselves with the room. They dismantle the room without being discovered and without causing damage to its contents. They arrange the contents into a stack formation of some kind, a volume within a volume. They take a photograph of it and latterly have also videotaped the process. They reassemble the room. Everything is back in its rightful place”. Morrissey goes on to point out that the actions—“at once pointless but compulsive”—are carried out simply to be reversed. At the end of the essay, he adds a charmingly destabilizing note: “Some might think of their activity as audacious or iconoclastic. But rather than feeling empowered the artists claim to be becoming progressively more anxious each time they repeat the work”.

“What is permissible?” Morrissey wonders aloud, “and what is not? What is productive work and what is not?”

Are the repetitive-compulsive actions of Dade and Hanney any less repetitive and compulsive than the hours of work most people accomplish? Is the maid’s “making up the room” any less meaningful (or any more) than Dade and Hanney’s unmaking the room (and remaking it again)?

Photographer, curator and writer/editor Katy McCormick, who has contributed one of her unfailingly perceptive essays to a pamphlet accompanying the current Gallery 44 show, notes that since nobody ever sees the room-rearrangings that Wade and Hanney undertake (except them), the work exists only as photographs (of which, for some reason, they make only one per project) and videos. McCormick sees each room stack as “a giant puzzle—a sort of readymade rearranged”. We become aware, she writes, “of a line being crossed in the social contract of guest and hotelier. The action of unmasking the domestic comforts offered there, ruptures the surface of the illusory nest, exposing it in all its flimsiness”.

Rearrangements: Sculpture/Performance/Photography, which features the Stacked Hotel Room work of Dade and Hanney, as well as excellent work by BC artist Lynda Gammon, continues at Gallery 44, 401 Richmond Street, Suite 120, until February 3. 416-979-3914 or http://www.gallery44.org.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 01/17 at 04:27 PM

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