‘I is an other’ or Quietly Immersive World of ‘Splendide Hotel’

Reinforcing the recently discussed notion of the permeable boundary between the real and the imaginary, there has been another work of art probing this territory, installed about a year ago in the Crystal Palace in Madrid. Dominique Gonzalez- Foerster’s piece, called Splendide Hotel (2014), occupied space of the 19th-century building in the form of numerous rocking chairs deployed around a large room. Each chair had a book tied up to it and visiting readers (or reading visitors) had a chance to reconnect to the times, when the building was constructed, through these literary sources.

Attached to the room of rocking chairs was another one, ostensibly part of the structure of the building but in fact, separated off the rest of the space and accessible only by peering through the window glass. There, the French artist, who became associated with the relational artists of the 1990s first recognized by the curator Nicolas Bourriaud, placed an object evoking the historical time, such as a top hat, lace-up boots, a gramophone or an orchid plant. Foester thus referenced the original purpose of the building, which was erected to house the exotic plants of the Philippine Islands, and the kinds of people frequenting its premises.

Sitting in the rocking chair and feeling the weight of the book in one’s hands, the participants can experience the dialogue between the historical and literary ideas, the present remains of clothing and the absent bodies, between the immaterial memory or subjective imagination and the material construction of the building- its high ceilings, omnipresent glass or the 19th century Persian carpets collectively produce a visually stimulating environment that additionally carries an intellectual and maybe even slightly bohemian, hedonistic charge. However, the artist herself sees this installation as an oblique route towards thinking about the means of production and how the exhibited items contribute to the discourse on ready-mades which enabled greater experimentation in art forms:

Splendide Hotel succeeds in a thoughtful staging of a temporally and spatially aware situation and the multiple threads weaving the semi-fictional historical narrative can be considered its biggest strength; yet, Gonzalez- Foerster has previously done a sharper (and smarter) work in comparison to which this creation of an architectural (exterior) and atmospheric (interior) setting feels slightly insipid. Still, if I could I would have given it a try. Maybe being physically present would more efficiently drive home the subtle, rather than the spectacular Splendide Hotel, the title of which apparently comes from one of Arthur Rimbaud’s poems. I prefer his statement on another type of construction- ‘I is an other’- and if that could make its way into the sun-lit room of quietly swinging chairs, never stopping in any position but constantly oscillating between two points, then the art piece would be marked by something splendid, indeed.

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