LINDA DUVALL Visual and Media Artist
Linda Duvall sat in the window of the Box Hotel in Barcelona and annotated what was happening in her environment through a series of pictographs referencing the people and activities in front of her. As she proceeded, a visual carpet of minute drawings gradually covered the floor of the Box Hotel. This carpet contained a record of all that she observed during that period. This project was done live as a performance work, in which she wrote directly on the floor using markers.
Duvall developed a visual coding system so that she could provide a written equivalent to the sounds, sights and smells that are happening directly in front of her. Any audio or visual event was sequentially annotated in hieroglyphic form. The written code shifts and evolves depending on what is happening at any one time. It is a way that she could experience and share of the unique flow of Barcelona at different times of the day or night. The hieroglyphic text visually reveals the changing rhythms.
In creating this work, she made evident her role in personalizing the act of monitoring, counting, and describing her immediate environment. She also incorporated the participation of the audience directly into the work. The conversations with the passersby were an essential part of this work. If a person stopped and looked, she drew a box around the sign representing that person. If they stayed and talked, she added a sign for talking.
Essay by Jeffrey Swartz
The boom of urban-based, culturally avid tourism in Barcelona has given rise to a new type of hotel, more modest in size and tailored to appeal to seasoned travellers in search of something different. Tired of generic hotels with their sterile lobbies, fluffy floral arrangements and geriatric breakfast rooms? If a change is as good as a rest –rest being the proverbial aim of a hotel– change could well be had in introducing spatial and thematic variations on a tired model.
Box Hotel is only one of the many hotels in this vein to appear in the city’s Ciutat Vella (the old quarter), though it must certainly be the most diminutive in size and idiomatically unique. In fact there is only one room available, a small suite with a kitchenette tucked away at the back. A risky proposition that has been no impediment to Brazilian-born proprietor Edgar Davila, who has envisioned this first venture into the trade as an experiment in creative travel. As the building was once used as a police station, and the room more recently held an art gallery (Davila’s Box 23), it could be said that its cultural ascent has now reached its peak.
In another part of Ciutat Vella the Camper shoe company is building a hotel on a pedestrian lane, linking it with the idea of an urban walking experience: a place for flaneurs to put their feet up. Box Hotel takes a different tack; the room is not a place of respite, but of action. Like in a business-person’s hotel, where the room can serve as an ad hoc office and sometime showroom of wares and ideas, here the lodgings are used in the service of artmaking: as an artist’s studio and, if need be, as the exhibition space itself.
Box Hotel presents certain conditions that are sure to engage the creative work of anyone lodged there. Two floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto Ample Street mean that guests brush up against passers-by, making for a challenging two-way flow between the recondite private realm of the room and the noisy public passage of the street. This deflection outwards, through the windows, is sharpened by one of Box Hotel’s most distinguishing features: white curtains lining the walls.
Wall drapery is by no means a novel or unusual concept (medieval tapestry is an example), though its effect at the Box is troubling to say the least. Looking upon these soft folds, what is it we see? Gilles Deleuze once imagined the turning billows of cloth as part denoting, part concealing a path carrying the eye, and with it the beholder, to a Baroque infinity. In turn the fold –or just as well the cracking veins in marble– signalled the way the divine circuitously wound its way down upon the earthly realm in the form of “event”.
At Box Hotel, however, one gets the sense that the folds of these curtains, synthetic and coolly mundane, lead nowhere, or at least not beyond this world. Their function is rather one of denial; the curtains reject the possibility of using the walls as a support for pictures, as a draw for the gaze. Whether in the gallery or the refined hotel, pictures have traditionally been placed at eye level to absorb the line of sight and channel it into a point or points (vanishing or not) within the picture plane. The Romantic cliché of a “room with a view” simply transferred this pictorial role from the hanging picture to the conveniently placed window, there to feed the traveller’s imagination with an idyllic capsule of the place being visited.
As Box Hotel’s first guest Linda Duvall deftly illustrated through her stay in the room in September 2002, the deflection towards the window is less a search for the framed quietude of pictorialism, than an invitation to a dynamic dialogue with the human and sensorial flux the window opens immediately onto. Thus the impetus for her creative stay was culled from the very conditions –tough and unyielding as they may be- imposed by the architectural and urban predicament of Box Hotel itself.
Duvall’s project showed a hyper-sensibility to the intrusive presence of the street in its primary, uncontrollable form: audio. Even with the shutters closed the sounds of humans, animals, vehicles and the bells of the nearby Mercè Church, dedicated to the Baroque Our Lady of Mercy (appropriately the Barcelona city patron) push into the hotel room’s promised realm of silent repose, the traveller’s diastole. Duvall engaged such irruptions by opening the windows and documenting them along with their visual counterparts, bridging the technique of flow studies with urban sociology. In hour-long periods delimited by the chiming church bells, each visual or audio event was sequentially annotated in hieroglyphic form on the white wooden floor of the “public” part of her suite.
Duvall discovered that her presence at the window effectively invited passers-by to curiosity, with the resulting obligation of light, improvised conversation and perhaps the odd snapshot. In concordance with this reciprocal play of inside and out, large photographic images of the hotel room in use during the “studio” period were fit onto the bedroom window, facing out. A tattoo collage of human faces she had encountered in her sociological hours at the window was then inscribed into these photographic skins, using tiny pinpoint holes (a technique the artist has used in the previous works). The images were then backlit. Thus from the outside the workaday reality of Duvall’s stay within was inferred.
In contrast, visitors to this Box Hotel room in its “gallery” phase found photography placed against the shut window on the inside, only this time depicting the ominous white curtains. Here a sort of stain was seen to work its way through the photographed curtains, its amorphous quality lacking in concretion. In this way Duvall sought to counterpoint the strictly definable street events annotated on the floor –a woman pushing a stroller, a police siren, a group of young people talking noisily late at night– with the less concrete but equally constant stream of uncategorizable human hum filtering inwards at all hours of the day. As the artist herself as admitted (though we are unsure whether any complaints made it to the front desk) much of it made its presence obtusely felt on her sleep, encroaching and even interrupting the sub-conscious phases of her dream state.
If Linda Duvall’s stay at Box Hotel is any indicator, this is certainly not the kind of hotel you would reserve for a quiet Mediterranean getaway. To return to Deleuze, here the “event”, as buffered and streamed through old Barcelona, is made manifest in full sensorial fashion within the confines of Box Hotel’s single, low-end suite. Which takes little if anything away from Box Hotel’s unquestionably quaint attraction. We recommend that future guests book now, book early, for future artistic endeavours in the tourist-thronged town.