A motel is just a place to stay for the night, unless you live you there. Performance Artist Mike Min is part of a new series of installations at area motels that explore the transitional nature of life there. Mike would know. He grew up at the Seafair Motel on Aurora Avenue in Seattle. His parents ran the place. Mike talks with Megan Sukys about how that experience shaped his life as an artist.
You’ve stayed in hotels, motels, and Holiday Inns.
But the sketchiest was the Norman Bates charmer between Nowheresville and Barelyexistsburg on your freshman year road trip to buy crappy fake IDs.
Still, if the roaches (and stains) left a glimmer of your inner Kerouac intact, you’ll dig Motel, an artist-run ode to the American roadside institution.
This Saturday, Aurora’s Bridge Motel will be overrun with performance and installation artists who are transforming the ultra-dodgy spot’s rooms for one riotous night before it gets turned into townhomes.
Visit the Front Office to hear scientist-poets Vis-à-Vis Society. Check into Room Ten to see what always unpredictable pranksters PDL have up their sleeves. Or linger in a hallway to see what One Pot’s Michael Hebberoy’s got cooking.
At the least, it’ll be an out-of-the-ordinary evening.
And a better way to get your motel fix.
Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight, at Bridge Motel, 3650 Bridge Way North. For more information, go to motelmotelmotel.com.
The Bridge Motel is just a few steps from the Aurora Bridge, Seattle's most popular suicide jump, and it is seedy—needles in the sheets, crushed crack pipes beneath the beds, a steady stream of twitchy clients, a history of murder. The manager says it's haunted: "There's something in these walls—human drama seems heightened here somehow."
That manager is dk pan, a butoh dancer, performance artist, and impresario who moved into the Bridge Motel last November, when friends bought the property (with plans to tear it down) and offered him the job.
He had one stipulation—that, before it was demolished, he could turn the entire motel over to artists for a night of installation and performance art. After a year of addicts, pimps, and last-stop lodgers, the night has finally come. This Saturday, September 15, the Bridge Motel will become Motel #1, the first site of the tripartite Motel Project. (Motel #2 will be a weeklong artistic residence in one room at the Ambassador Motel in late September; Motel #3 is incipient—Tubs, in the University District, is a rumored location.)
A wake for the doomed motel and its presumably doomed residents, Motel #1 involves dozens of the city's best artists, and it will be great. A truncated tour:
In the kitchen, Davida Ingram will cook for people who have responded to her business cards and internet advertisements: "Black woman willing to make your favorite meal. You share the recipe. I prepare. Come hungry." They buy the ingredients, she cooks, and everybody thinks discomfiting thoughts about servitude and race.
In another room, Implied Violence will perform one of their signature chaotic spectacles. This one involves demolishing a wall, a lot of gold paint, and moving furniture from one room into another.
Artist Jack Daws is a perfect fit for the seediness of the Bridge Motel—his work reaches across to the far side of the law. In the past, he has filled bubblegum machines with prescription drugs, sent counterfeit pennies (made of gold) into circulation, and carved weapons out of wood. His performance at Motel #1 is secret, but it involves tearing off a section of roof and something about campfires being the American West's first form of transient, motel lodging.
There will also be a room-sized camera obscura, tree stumps cast in porcelain, a roomful of salt, a creepy van blasting loud music and stage smoke, butoh walks on the roof, and, in the parking lot, a lounge, with all the motel furniture dragged out onto the pavement.
It will be a wake, an exorcism, and a séance all in one.
There’s an “endurance piece” in Room 7 and a dinner party in Room 3.
By Carrie E.A. Scott
Next week, the Bridge Motel just off Aurora in Fremont will be destroyed by a wrecking ball. But before it dies, it will host a happening. Yes, an art happening, just like the 1950s performative-multidisciplinary thing that seldom made sense but was billed as art. Happenings are back, and motels have become the hot new places to hold them. Both the current venue and the concept may seem like they're in desperate need of an update. But it's clear from conversations with the organizers that "motelmotelmotel" has the potential to be much more than an exercise in hipster partying.
Saturday's event (the first in a series of three; hence the name) arose through a "happy series of coincidences." Each of the three parties responsible for the project has a connection to motels: Mike Min grew up in one; Liza Lee Keckler-Christofferson lives about three blocks from the Bridge; and a friend of d.k. pan (the lowercase is his thing) purchased the aging motel last November and asked pan to baby-sit it before its demise. "Independently," pan says, "I'd been thinking about doing an art event, and then I connected with Mike, who wanted to do an endurance performance piece, and it all just sort of came together. Artists got excited, and we figured out how to pull it off."
More than 18 installation and performance artists, many of whom are all-stars on Seattle's art scene (including Jack Daws, Paul Rucker, and PDL), have been given a week to transform their own dilapidated corners of the building. Their only guideline was to avoid the subject of drugs or prostitution, as pan wanted the artists to push past the motel cliché.
Within these loose parameters, artists have brought some compelling ideas. Min's endurance piece, called Hurting Cats, consists of him being locked in a motel room with six cats for three days and three nights. It's supposed to mimic the ridiculous nature of off-site summit meetings in which powerful people come together to make decisions. It's also a heavy-handed homage to a political piece by Josef Beuys, who spent three days in a room with a coyote, ironically challenging the Vietnam War and the hegemony of American art.
Daws—whose newest show of punchy political sculpture at Greg Kucera Gallery, "Nothing to Lose," is also worth a visit—similarly plays with political and historical undertones. Daws will be taking the roof off his room and building a sort of campfire inside. He's drawing irreverent parallels between the campfire as a place for frontiersmen to rest their heads for the evening and the motel as our modern-day campfire.
Also known for purposeful cheekiness, the trio PDL will be showing an installation called Deep Space. Greg Lundgren, the L part of the group and the unofficial media contact, was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the project, saying he didn't want to reveal the surprise. He did say Deep Space will be "much lighter" than the confessional piece the group has recently been touring to venues such as Bumbershoot, wherein people enter a booth and confess to the artists.
There will be cooking, too. Davida Ingram, who works in the community affairs department at the Seattle Art Museum, will publicly perform a project she's been doing in private. Putting classified ads in papers that read something along the lines of "Black woman willing to make your favorite meal," Ingram has been cooking for strangers so long as they purchase the goods. For the Bridge, she will transform her space into a dining room where the most recent respondents to her ad will get fed. If Ingram's piece makes you hungry, no worries: Michael Hebberoy's also going to be on-site hosting the ever-creative, ever-enjoyable One Pot event, which is always an epic dining experience wherein perfect strangers mingle together at the same table around the same delicious plate. Though he hasn't exactly decided what this particular dining experience will consist of, according to his Web site, it will include a long table, some big pots, plenty of food, and maybe even a little participation.
I'm hoping Hebberoy's casual approach will permeate the entire event. Since no one knows exactly what the experience will consist of, there's no need to prescribe any art pretense to it. We needn't bring Beuys or the Bridge back from the dead. Both had their place; let's make some space for the new format.
Would-be customers were still stepping up to the Bridge Motel on Thursday, looking to rent a room for $40 a night or $200 by the week.
They must not have heard that it's closed. News travels slowly in the transient motel world, where guests are careful to mind their own business.
Seven townhouses are scheduled to replace the Bridge. They will be built with the ever-popular "green agenda" in mind. D.K. Pan, Bridge manager, estimates the average cost of these units will be $1 million each.
"That's a lot," he said, looking thoughtful.
Thoughtful is his usual look. Pan is an artist who became manager a year ago partly because he wanted to make a film about the motel, envisioning the structure as a woman. When he learned it was not long for this world, he asked if artists could take over before wrecking balls took it down.
Saturday night from 5 to midnight, the office, the 12 rooms and part of the parking lot will be transformed into what more than 20 artists and/or artist teams think of the spirit of the place. The installations and performances will be temporary art for a temporary location.
"It's an opportunity for beauty in the cracks of decrepitude," said painter Laura Corsiglia.
She's filling her room with "Slippage Drawings," which she sees as connections between the flight of birds and the flight of a building, between ducks in blue ink and crayfish that live in the air.
By Thursday she had liberated a lovely underpad ("like handmade paper") from the burden of wall-to-wall carpeting and was busy ripping out cranberry curtains to feature their gray liners. The bed she will cover in white sheets on which she might draw, especially on pillows where so many heads have rested.
"I've lived in cheap motels around the world," she said. "As long as there was a table to draw on and a good light, I took it."
Kaleb Hagan-Kerr and Erin Spencer react to the peephole aspect of a motel by creating a camera obscura to cast tantalizing images from Bridge-inspired performances into a darkened room.
Sarah Kavage is turning her room into a clearcut populated by white porcelain tree stumps in tribute to the forest that once covered the hill. Pan will fill a room with thousands of pounds of white salt. The walls will be red, and there will be a woman in her wedding gown sleeping on the bed.
Robert Zverina's "Smoke and Mirrors" promises to be an immersive installation. He's a photographer and video artist who makes life's banalities shake, rattle and shine.
Paul Rucker's sound/video installation will invite viewers to question the nature of art, whatever that means. Because Rucker's doing it, we know at least the music will be good.
Kathy Kim and Shelly Farnham are making a web. The audience that crawls around it can decide who's a predator and who's prey.
The art team known as PDL is casting itself into sci-fi deep space, a goofy guys remake of "2001: A Space Odyssey." A group called Implied Violence will wear gold clothing in a gold room and be loud. Bring ear plugs if you value your hearing.
C. Davida Ingram is a black woman who found a white man on Craigslist who wants her to make him dinner. The dinner is a performance. Meghan Guthrie's video is intended as a wide-open view.
The Vis-à-vis Society (Sierra Nelson and Rachel Kessler) painted the lobby Pepto-Bismol pink. They're handling the room keys and want you to take a survey.
In the parking lot, Mike Min of Seattle School will shut himself up in a white van and play heavy metal (Tool) really loud. Fog will drift through the door cracks as well as evidence of a light show. Maybe there will be fried chicken.
"I think fried chicken is important here," he said. "The Bridge had lots of fried chicken in buckets, and I'm willing to wager that the new townhouses won't."
As Pan pointed out, the Bridge is part of a historic chain of development. A house built in 1900 on forest-cleared land was knocked down to make way for the motel. The house was a generous two story with a wide porch, water views and cherry trees that bloomed in the yard.
The Bridge was all about the bustle of a modern age. A retired Seattle police officer built it in the early 1950s for traveling salesmen on a budget.
Over the years, that budget grew thinner.
"The worst part of my job every day was asking people for money who didn't have any," said Pan. Although there was a murder in 1994, Pan has never had to call the police during his year as caretaker.
"I threatened to call, and that was the end of it," he said.
The police were never far away. They cruised through the parking lot at least once a day to run license plates, said Pan.
The motel didn't close because it failed in its changing function. Most nights, it filled up. It closed because the land on which it sits is too valuable to waste on a low-rent enterprise.
Jack Daws and Faith Ramos stripped a portion of the roof to its rafters as a sendoff to the Bridge crowd, linking them with transients from America's past. Under the night sky, Room 12 will host a campfire pit and cowboy soul music by Hank Williams.
"Motel" was produced by Pan's free sheep foundation and Min's group, Seattle School, with a grant from 4Culture. The Bridge is part one of Pan and Min's traveling motel art show. Part two opens at the Ambassador Motel Sept. 21 and runs a week. Part three will take place in November, the site as yet unsecured. For more information, check motelmotelmotel.com.
Art installations at the Bridge Motel reflect its changing role in Seattle history. At right is D.K. Pan, last manager of the Bridge and organizer of the art event tonight.
The Bridge Motel, that iconic, seedy little roadhouse off Aurora in Fremont — whose red-lettered sign, M-O-T-E-L, has stood sentinel over Seattle's north end for 53 years — will be torn down next week to make way for a row of new townhouses.
Some can't wait for the paint-blistered eyesore — home of drugs, murder and ladies of the night — to go the way of the Twin Tepees Restaurant, another Aurora pit stop torn down in 2001. The more nostalgic at heart lament the symbolic demise of "the Bridge."
Tonight, a group of local artists will gather in the gutted motel to eulogize its checkered history and the five decades of guests — traveling salesman, transients and prostitutes — who've stayed in its rooms. Beginning at 5 p.m. and ending at midnight, the old motel will transform into a free-form gallery and performing-arts space.
Each of the empty bedrooms will feature murals, painting or sculpture, and a makeshift theater downstairs will host dance performances, music and a five-hour interpretive theater production by nearly 30 artists.
The artwork on display — everything from carpentry to ink drawings to "the cooking of weird food" — is inspired by a range of issues, said D.K. Pan, the last manager of the Bridge Motel and organizer of this event. Major themes? The "surreal and iconic" nature of the Bridge Motel, its changing role in Seattle and what its destruction suggests about the future of this city.
When the Bridge Motel opened in 1954, it served mostly as a way station for traveling salesman and a sentry for traffic entering Seattle from the north, Pan said. In recent decades, it has become a home to drug users and prostitutes, and the site of several murders.
Many artists worry that the extinction of these "funky, bizarre old spaces" portends the end of Seattle's vital, soulful quality, said actor Ryan Mitchell, 25.
"Our performance will be fun, but it'll also be wrought with sadness," he said. "Seattle's at the brink of destroying itself. It's saying, 'We love the art, but we hate the artists.' All the empty space, all the affordable, accessible spaces are being turned into condos."
Mitchell's play will be an act of Surrealist-style protest. Expect fake blood, bags of live crickets and "intense nonsense."
On the whole, though, neighbors of the Bridge Motel, who stand to watch their homes rise in value and their neighborhood become safer, will not mourn its destruction.
"I used to work the north end for 10 years, so I'm intimately familiar with the Bridge Motel," said Mark Jamieson of the Seattle Police Department. "All kinds of illicit activities happened there, prostitution and drugs — it was bad."
On a table in the motel's old foyer, Pan has gathered a stack of historical photographs of the Bridge Motel. Underneath the rest, there's one of a cute single-family home, built between 1910 and 1920.
"That was what was destroyed to make room for the motel," Pan said, pointing. So it goes.
Seattle performance artists, painters and sculptors who usually find themselves on the outer edge of an elusive audience's radar found themselves on Saturday night at the Bridge Motel with a problem common to curators of impressionist and post-impressionist retrospectives. They were too popular for their own good. Preview story here.
People who came early could squeeze themselves into the motel rooms. After 9, however, the clog of bodies on the stairs and in the temporary galleries was stunning. I'll bet that never in the history of that small land parcel have so many bodies shown up at once, somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 free spirits mingling with the occasional bad-mouth drunk. Aside from a few shoving matches in the parking lot and a minor injury after a fight, the mood was festive.
The fire department showed up around 10, said Liza Keckler--who organized the event with Mike Min of Seattle School and D.K. Pan of the free sheep foundation. "They were really cool," she said of the firemen. Given the genial spirit prevailing, they declined to intervene, save briefly at Jack Daws' and Faith Ramos' campfire in Room 12.
In tribute to the transients who've made the Bridge a home since 1954 -- first traveling salesmen and later drifting people looking for a shower and the chance to kick back with cable TV, along with prostitutes and drug dealers -- Ramos and Daws linked them to the transients in the Old West, cowboys who ate dinner and slept by campfires and then moved on.
Ramos and Daws dug a hole in the roof and built a fire in the room. Hank Williams sang on tape. A fire in a motel room is something the fire department does not ordinarily condone, but at the Bridge, after investigating, firemen let it go. (Credit to Daws and Ramos for their well-built, fire-containing pit.)
"We were thinking maybe 300 people would come, so we hired two security people and had half a dozen volunteers throughout the night," said Keckler. "Our idea was to let what happened happen. That would have worked for a crowd of 300 but not 1,200. We're thrilled that the project had so much resonance with people, but we wish that more people could have seen the art. "
I came at 8 and left before 10, giving up on getting into C. Davida Ingram's race-based dinner party, the Vis-a-vis Society's performance in the office, Paul Rucker's music/video and Implied Violence in a back room. I loved the campfire, PDL's space ship on a monitor, Pan's salt room and Laura Corsiglia's drawings.
My favorite moment was running into Pan on the first floor, where he stood with one-arm raised and greeted admirers. After a few minutes, I thought to ask why he arm was in the air. Turns out, the smoke alarm kept going off. He had his hand against the ringer to stop it and was waiting for a friend to show up with a wrench. Till then, he was as relaxed as a man sipping a party drink on a beach, under an umbrella.
In the parking lot, Min was holed up in a white van listening to Tool as smoke from his one-man fog machine show leaked out of the doors. One Pot held a sit-down banquet, with the audience rising to the challenge of cooking its own food. People sat on TV sets around tables and talked or played cards. Robert Zervina's circle of smashed cans was lovely till it was dismanted by the press of many feet.
If she had to do it over again, Keckler said she would have had people regulating crowd flow on the stairs and in the rooms.
The second event in a three-part series will be in one room of the Ambassador Motel for a week. Part three is yet to be announced. For information, go here.
Our visit was brief—the event is a huge success, the place is absolutely packed, congrats to dk pan for putting this together. But it was too successful—and too crowded—for most folks to appreciate the art, installations, and performances. I was too nervous to wait forever on crumbling staircases and balconies that were not designed to support the weight of hundreds of people. So I wasn’t able to crowd into any of the Bridge Motel’s rooms and check out works by Implied Violence, Jack Daws, Davida Ingram, Laura Corsiglia, Sarah Kavage, and others. I’m sure folks born too late to remember the collapse of a pair of walkways at the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1981—I was 15 at the time—weren’t bothered, got in eventually, and enjoyed the art. But the crush of people, the wait, and my inability to shut off the voice in my head that’s constantly screaming “You’re going die!” prevented me from enjoying much about Motel #1 save the festive scene in the parking lot.
Maybe I’m an increasingly bourgeois fuckstick, but standing around in the parking lot I could only think, “Gee, maybe they should have sold or given away tickets that admitted workable numbers of people at specific times?” That way more people could’ve gotten in and, you know, actually been able to view the work. Oh well, maybe next time.
And to the dopes that refused to clear off the second-floor balcony after they were done touring the rooms (yeah you guys, up there enjoying the view of downtown), which made it nearly impossible for other people to get in: What the fuck?
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?)
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.