Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Chris Doyle's hotel room experiment

50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main St., Ridgefield, (203) 438-4519
50,000 Beds: A Project by Chris Doyle
July 20—Sept. 23, 2007

Opening receptions:
Artspace: Fri., July 20, 6—8 p.m.
Real Art Ways: Sat., July 21, 6—9 p.m.
Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum: Sun., July 22, 3—5 p.m.

This weekend marks successive openings of 50,000 Beds: A Project by Chris Doyle, the first-ever simultaneous show coordinated between Connecticut's premier contemporary art institutions: Real Art Ways in Hartford, Artspace in New Haven and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. The idea for the collaboration emerged from an off the cuff conversation between Artspace curator Denise Markonish and New York Times critic Benjamin Genocchio. Had the three institutions, wondered Genocchio, ever worked together? Markonish responded that they hadn't but that it was a really good idea.

50,000 Beds is the brainchild of artist Chris Doyle. Doyle is an animator, watercolorist and installation artist. In his installation work he is particularly attracted to projects that seek to involve the public as collaborators rather than just viewers. I recently spoke by phone with Doyle about 50,000 Beds.

The title of the exhibition refers to the approximate number of available beds available in Connecticut at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and inns. For the show, Doyle commissioned 45 videos from 45 artists. They were set free to make a video in a motel, hotel or inn room. Doyle himself has designed the multi-venue installation in which the videos—15 to a venue—will be shown.

Doyle says his own recent animation work—making stop-action videos of hotel beds—provided the initial impetus for the idea. He had been "thinking a lot about and spending a lot of time in hotels." When the three venues solicited a proposal from him (and four other artists), he "had hotels on the brain." Doyle's was chosen.

"'I know what I would do if I made a video in a hotel because I'm doing it right now. I wonder what other artists would do,'" Doyle recalls thinking. "So it seemed natural to extend it out as a broader project and do a little experiment: See what other artists would do if they had the same parameters."

Rather than do an open call, Doyle contacted artists he was interested in involving in the project. Some he knew and others he didn't. He told them he would use whatever they submitted.

"It really was, in a true science way, an experiment. It was pretty open-ended. You don't know what you're going to get, and I just decided that was my parameter: Whatever I got I would use in the show," says Doyle.

He notes that certain themes emerged as he started reviewing the submissions.

"There were a number of people who focused on the hotel staff as a point of departure. There were a number who kind of riff on the movies—the idea of hotels and motels in movies, referring to film noir or to specific films, and were some who dealt with the horror genre," notes Doyle.

Because Doyle invited a broad spectrum of contributors—documentarians, independent filmmakers, video artists and animators—he received a varying range of stylistic responses. There are animated works ranging from "old school animation through some pretty special effect-y things."

"There is sort of an erotic component that bubbles up in a number of them. That's to be expected. It's a hotel!" he says with a laugh.

Doyle hasn't included any of his own hotel room animations. He says the project for him is more about seeing what others would do with the same germ of an idea and coordinating the collaboration between the three venues and designing the installation for the videos.

"What I wanted to do in each place was make a show that, while you could look at each video individually and focus on it and watch intently, I also wanted them to play off each other," explains Doyle.

"It's sort of the idea of a city where every building has its own complete vocabulary and they're all different from each other. But when they all get together they are one city," says Doyle. Similarly, as a viewer walks through the show, they will experience the videos individually "but also experience the accumulation of all 15 in that location." There are also linkages between the installations in the various venues designed to create the sense of one whole experience encompassing the three institutions. Doyle describes the installations as "somewhat complex," incorporating ramps, towers and discrete rooms.

While he is an accomplished watercolorist and animator, Doyle sees 50,000 Beds as an "extension of lot of my public projects."

"A lot of things I do involve persuading people to be part of something. Projects like LEAP, where I'm asking people to do a simple thing like stand in front of a black backdrop and jump and turn them into this kind of monument, and Commutable, a project with a gilded staircase to the Williamsburg Bridge. Both are projects where I'm thinking a lot about working people and labor," says Doyle.

"For this project, while the bed was an origin point, I was also thinking a lot about the staff and the housekeeping staff. That's a layer of it," continues Doyle. "But also, I've been thinking a lot about types of collective work, this way of working with a community I've never worked with before, which is my own community—artists."

Doyle says 50,000 Beds is an extension of projects like LEAP, all of which "have their roots in social sculpture." He describes the project as "super interesting" to him because it involves collaboration with and negotiation between the three venues as well as with all the participating artists.

"In my brain, it's like a 3-D collaboration," Doyle says, becoming even more complex when factoring the hotels into the mix.

Beyond the references to tourism and labor that occur in the submitted videos, Doyle notes there is another element to hotels that strikes him: "the strange aspect."

"As much as I've talked about this other stuff, the reality is that a hotel room is a pretty ambiguous, pretty enigmatic spot for me," he says. "When you walk down a hotel corridor and all the doors are closed, there's this tremendous mystery.

"You know what your own room is like and what's going on there. But you don't know what's going on behind all those other doors," muses Doyle. "If I'm thinking about what it's all about from the beginning, it is also about the mystery and enigma that happens in a hotel."

The tag team opening receptions for 50,000 Beds are at Artspace (Fri., 6-8 p.m.), Real Art Ways (Sat., 6-9 p.m.) and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Sun., 3-5 p.m.). The show will be on view at the Aldrich through Sept. 3, Artspace through Sept. 15 and Real Art Ways through Sept. 23.


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