Book Hook: Hotel Rooms and Other People’s Bathrooms

Text and pictures by Rachel Simkover

This week’s Book Hook features two books by Berlin based artist Alexine Chanel, whose participation with Bigs goes back to last May’s Speed Portfolio Viewing. Both projects deal with the body (or absence of the body) in relation to public and private space; for those of you who managed to squeeze into the Dornbracht Conversations 4: Public Intimacy at KW this past week, the topic should still be fresh in your mind. Contemporary art and luxury bathroom design may seem to have little in common, but Dornbracht, who invited Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Charlotte Klonk, Susanne Pfeffer, and Jeremy Shaw to KW, and Braun Fehrentz, who provided funding for Alexine’s book, are showing some interest in the relationship between the two, since parallels can be made when issues of privacy and intimacy arise. Alexine’s work looks at two intimate spaces, the bathroom and the hotel room, where strangers anonymously come and go hoping for privacy and trying not to imagine what took place there before they arrived.

In Other People’s Bathrooms (2008)

For the project In Other People’s Bathrooms (2008), which was part of an exhibition at Mars in Berlin, Chanel took hundreds of “selfies” in, you guessed it, other people’s bathrooms. These intimate photographs taken in an intimate space are made public by way of the publication. Leafing through the floppy pages, the book takes the form of a Pantone swatch book, is as awkward as trying to take your own picture in a confined space. The resulting publication is not simply a camera-dump of exhibitionist snapshots; the photos have been meticulously organized into twelve categories and are accompanied by text, both paired with images and on the back side of the image pages. The text corresponding to the photos complicates the reading of the images; for example the Psycho-laden anxiety evoked by the pictures in category 13:Murder titled “Suicides, Rapes, and Death in General,” the lacy, antique quality of the pictures in “8:Pet; Grannyphilia” to the art history references present in “03:Patterns: History of Art in 12 Easy Steps,” quite a range of subjects for self-portraits taken in bathrooms. The text on the other side of the image pages investigates the category topic itself with dictionary definitions, synonyms, and sentences providing examples of the words’ different meanings and usages.

Captain Beto’s Ring

Chanel was fascinated with the life of Alberto Araoz, a businessman she encountered during his brief stays in Berlin, convinced that he had a glamorous and exciting time being paid to travel from place to place and stay in hotels. He assured her that no, it was a rather lonely and alienating way to live. Chanel commissioned him to take photographs of the hotel rooms he occupied during work related travel. The resulting images are ones of solitude and loneliness; the photos of the drab and impersonal hotel rooms are multiplied and mirrored throughout the book, adding to the rhythm of the man’s solitary movement through these provisional living spaces. Captain Beto’s Ring is still in its early stages, but it is something to look forward to seeing next summer.



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