Last rites: inspirational installation

Bec Dean

the ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots
in the city of good neighbours that history forgot.
Ani de Franco, subdivision, 2001

By the time I had parked my car on someone’s manicured lawn, it was 8pm and in the distance the circa 1970s Rhodes Hotel had already begun its transformation from site of abandonment to spectral and terminal presence, snaking its various tendrils of sonic pulsation, red smoke and the blue glow of multiple TV sets into the night sky. Hundreds of shadowy figures accumulated on its balconies and stairwells, turning its secretive insides out.

The project Hotel6151, initiated and curated by Heather Webb, Christian de Vietri and Ben Riding, inhabited the entire Rhodes Hotel in South Perth on the week beginning Friday November 1. Its premise was ambitious on paper, but in reality it delivered one of the most inspirational installation and multimedia events in the history of Western Australian contemporary art practice. The new generation of artists represented amid the ‘guest’ list of over 50 participants showed the kind of resourceful, inventive and independent drive to produce a multi-levelled, complex experience that ran the gamut from immersive to truly terrifying.

I was among some 2,500 visitors that signed-in at the hotel lobby during the evening, ushered through its front doors by a baby-blue uniformed Tom Müller as concierge and 3 bell-hops into a throng of rapidly inebriating punters. Throughout its spaces artists had created works which drew on structural features, furniture and objects that still remained in the building prior to its imminent demolition. These included Dawn Gamblen’s paperclip chandelier, Bruce Slatter’s reconfigured dart-boards, Rick Vermey’s evacuation-based stairwell pastings and the collaborative work of Christian de Vietri and Ben Riding, employing 2 of the original Rhodes cleaners in the proper maintenance of a single room.

The Atlas Group’s smoking lounge and bar reduced the entire third-floor to a claustrophobic shoebox through the use of false walls lined with burgundy and gold flock-wallpaper. Its single elevator access provoked enough uneasiness to imagine the towering inferno as merely a stray match away. Working with similar repulsion/attraction dichotomies was Seddon Pepper’s Smoke and Mirrors that pumped smoke through an emptied room, allowing the air to clear just enough for visitors to make out their reflected images. Tess McNamara and Monique Powell further explored augmented space in their labyrinthine closet where its 2-way peekaboo dress-up room could only be accessed by crawling through and shifting piles of clothes.

Darker narratives of desertion and regret were pursued by Sarah Contos whose circa 1980s Miss Havisham hurled abuse, rancid cake and dining crockery at visitors whilst wallowing in a wine-stained wedding dress, repeatedly showing slides of her ersatz nuptials. Annabel Dixon’s re-presentation of a hotel-based porn film transposed to slide caught her visitors lingering within the seduction of inevitability, while Simon Pericich’s oasis fabricated from carpet and hotel junk could be peered at only through a hole in the door that vented the overpowering stench of hospital-grade loo blue.

Both Matt Hunt and Jarrod McKenna sought to locate the hotel trope within recent media representations of detention centres in Australia. Hunt’s work occupied a bedroom, its roof jacked up by industrial props, with the word TAMPA chiselled in reverse on its main wall, as if in time it could begin to reveal itself to other guests. Meanwhile McKenna set-up a conversation desk in the games room to offer the Rhodes as a possible site of refuge. Outside the venue, Kate McMillan’s trench played upon the tenuous relationship between digging a strategic hole, and finding oneself in active warfare. It is no accident that the hotel it stood to protect now lies in rubble.

Hotel6151, concept & curation Heather Webb, Christian de Vietri & Ben Riding, Rhodes Hotel, South Perth November 1-8

RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002 pg. web

© Bec Dean; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2002