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Hotel Americano

Located in Chelsea on 27th Street, Hotel Americano is the first hotel in New York by Mexican hoteliers Habita Group. Habita founders Carlos Couturier and Moises Micha have created a string of design hotels that epitomise a kind of relaxed Latin sophistication juxtaposed with heavily curated room offerings. Hotel Americano is no different, taking over a disused parking garage on 27th Street and a half block away from the amazing High Line urban space, its stainless steel façade shimmers, illuminating the street in an affront to the existing industrial landscape.

Embedded in the gallery district of Manhattan, it is evident that Hotel Americano’s aesthetic successfully treads the fine line between design hotel and a warm inviting space that locals and guests can sink into and make their own. The exterior and room design is minimalist with Habita collaborating with architect Enrique Norten. However carefully considered room amenities and design details abound with Loden Dager denim bathrobes, Aesop bathroom amenities, timber tatami style base for the soft bedding, a polished industrial concrete floor and a wonderfully useful in-room iPad surrounds the guest in a space that juxtaposes sleek European design with pared back Japanese restraint.

On the ground floor, restaurant Americano (run by chef Olivier Reginensi, who previously worked at Daniel) serves lovely French inspired food with some Latin flair. There’s also a rooftop swimming pool – with inspiring views of the Empire State building – that doubles as a hot tub in winter. This combination of epicurean refinement and ability to soak in the urban landscape in an entirely personal manner makes Hotel Americano the perfect chic hotel for your New York odyssey.

Copyright Leon Goh & SHIFT 2012

Mis-Design

Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, and multiple off-site venues

24 Aug 2011 to 06 Nov 2011

Curator: Grace McQuilten

Mis-Design was an expansive, multi-layered project with exhibitions occupying the Ian Potter Museum of Art as well as off site venues such as the McDonald’s car park, Collingwood and Alphaville clothing store on Brunswick Street. Curated by Grace McQuilten, Mis-Design ‘maps the potential for critical artistic practice in an environment marked by the design of commodities…and examines the relationship between art and design within the context of the commodification of art’[1] With projects such as Shelter by the Slow Art Collective (Tony Adams, Chaco Kato, Ash Keating and Dylan Martorell), Adam Kalkin’s Tennis Academy and Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop Archive – a slow fashion affront to notions of trend and choice within the fashion industry – Mis-design was reclamation of both conceptual and visual spaces reinforcing art’s ability to confound and critique rather than being slowly ensconced within systems of commerce.

Shelter was embedded within the Collingwood McDonald’s car park – a space that, like many car parks, is foreboding, dark and dank. As built environments, they are constructed purely for the encasement and storage of the tools we utilise to move from point A to point B. And the bland, pre-fabricated concrete panels that frame this site lack any sense of monumentality. It is pure function over form, built to service the fast food consumer culture that permeates our society.

Rupturing this banal environment with its day-glow brightness, appropriated detritus and DIY aesthetic, Shelter read as an affront to its surroundings, its visual punch provoked a reaction in the spectator that was both unexpected and unnerving. The installation was situated in the bowels of the car park – underneath street level – on the central island of the in use drive thru lane. As a visitor, it felt like you had stumbled across a private domestic space made public. Documented and streamed live to the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Shelter explored built spaces in their most rudimentary form, created out of necessity rather than want. Bright milk and bread crates, tin cans and reclaimed advertising placards were appropriated, emptied out of their original use value and haphazardly fashioned into a temporary shelter.

Visual nods to food brands littered the space, from familiar packaging to bright logos – branded accoutrements to our food consumption laid bare. As part of the embedded criticism of the mistreatment and societal disregard for the homeless in the work, the Slow Art Collective empathetically attempted to create a space with a sense of homeliness. A ragged mannequin lay in bed within a roomed off section of the installation, with books on guerrilla gardening and the environment haphazardly strewn about. On opposite ends of the work, totem pole fountains referenced symbols of suburbia and festive fairy lit clusters of bamboo were awkwardly positioned in front of a faux table setting made up of empty bottles and servings of wheatgrass. As the soundtrack of drive thru orders echoed in the background, what became evident was that Shelter was a subversive insertion into the very site that fuelled its existence. It was a valuable and timely critique of contemporary consumption culture and the stratification and social disparities that it creates.

The intermingling of art with commerce was also a conceptual layer in Adam Kalkin’s wonderfully interactive work Adam Kalkin’s Tennis Academy (AKTA). Where Shelter was a subversive insertion, Kalkin’s work was about the act of creating moments of internal reflection through physical acts. Resplendent with tennis paraphernalia, sports branding and fake turf, an artificial tennis sports-scape was set up in the Ian Potter, allowing participants to explore their own physicality within the museum.

The academy was run by the amazingly intense (but lovely) ex-tennis professional Art Lockwood. As I warmed up with Art around the running track, he proceeded to tell me stories from his professional career. What emerged was a remarkable personal narrative, which framed the seismic shift of sport from an ultimate expression of the physical to a pursuit that is tainted by commercial interests. The participant’s experience of the work ultimately rested on the relationship that was formed with Art, however his ability to become entirely focussed on the physical act was infectious. Tennis drills – which ranged from hitting balls into a wall emblazoned with the word GOD, to tiring volleying – were juxtaposed with a cacophony of primal drumbeats and guttural bellows, effectively rendering the act of tennis as conduit for the exploration of self. This convergence of physicality with the primal, along with Art’s intriguing personal history, created a work which proved to be an emphatic counterpoint to the heavily designed capitalist symbols that emblazoned the walls of this faux tennis stadium. Like Shelter, what AKTA resoundingly achieved was an undermining of commerce’s incessant ability to entrench itself within our private and public spaces.


[1] Grace McQuilton, Mis-Design: Art in a Consumer Landscape, Ashgate publishing, Surrey England, 2011, p. 3.

 

Copyright Leon Goh & Un Magazine 2012

Structural Integrity

Next Wave Festival 2010

Arts House Meat Market

5 Blackwood St

North Melbourne, VIC

Fri 14 – Sat 30 May 2010

Opening Thu 13 May 2010

Spread out across Melbourne and occupying spaces that ranged from the cavernous to the uncanny, from iconic sports stadiums to disused back laneways, the 2010 Next Wave festival once again infiltrated, subverted and critiqued our social and cultural fabric. The Next Wave festival has consistently provided invaluable avenues for emerging artists, writers and curators to engage with the world around them and this year’s raison d’etre ‘No Risk Too Great’ took this one step further as it sought to examine and breakdown the structures which inform and control the risk-adverse society that we inhabit. One of the most ambitious and large-scale exhibitions of the festival, Structural Integrity brought together six Australian and five Asian artist-run spaces at the Art House Meat Market in North Melbourne. Envisaged to reference world fairs of times past – with demarcated pavilion style spaces for each ARI – there was a real risk that the collating of such disparate voices would create an exhibition that felt disjointed to the viewer. Inevitably thematic inconsistency was always a risk as multiple conceptual voices were intertwined with varied artistic mediums however, I found that I became increasingly swept up in each space’s work: engaging and disengaging with each ARI’s space with increasing speed.

Entering the Meat Market I was confronted with a cacophony of mechanical sounds – the whirring of electrical motors and the crash and bang of metallic destruction. Six_a_INC’s work Supercharger (2010) sat in the centre of the cavernous space recalling barren landscapes of an interstellar world. Here the spectator’s relationship with the work became challenged, as outcomes and ways of engagement were cleverly left unanswered. Visitors were encouraged to take the reigns of these individually conceptualised remote controlled super-mobile-art-devices. It was an engagement that was entirely mesmeric, as these remote controlled devices meandered and maneuvered over strategically placed obstacles and crashed into each other rendering their fate delightfully unknown.

Amidst the colour and noise of the main Meat Market space – where Locksmith Project Space created a kind of mobile home made up of unfinished scraps of floral fabric that referenced parade ground contraptions or perhaps the transitory nature of circus life – I was drawn to spaces that sought to explore our sense of place and identity from entirely different cultural frames of reference. The Asia Pacific ARI’s that formed an integral part of this exhibition brought an extra conceptual layer to the exhibition as a number of them, in particular Art Centre Ongoing from Tokyo Japan and Post Museum from Singapore, adopted an outsider view of Australia. This view cleverly positioned Australia as a kind of ‘other’ inverting the us and them dichotomy that is frequently adopted by the mainstream to frame issues of nationhood. Masahiro Wada’s faux campsite living room installation acted as an archive of the time that he spent in country Victoria. Wada erected a makeshift temporary shelter in the centre of the space, using scraps of wood for the roof and the supporting walls. On the wall, haphazardly installed shelves displayed a photo archive made up of shots of scrubby bush, gold rush imagery and detritus found in country Victoria. Witnessing our interior and constructed mythologies presented through the lens of someone else positions our cultural identity front and centre, and prompted me to question its modes of construction.

The specificity of cultural identity and the social contexts which consequently inform its construction was also explored throughout Zhou Tao’s 1,2,3,4 (2010) work which formed part of Vitamin Creative Spaces’ mini pavilion. Shown on a small LCD monitor, Tao’s video work captured the morning routines of Chinese workers in various industries. With uniforms ranging from the brightly coloured to the navy blue of industrial workers, the workers yelled ‘1,2,3,4’ as they participated in morning marches and roll calls that appeared entirely militaristic in their intent – an instilling of discipline through regimentation. At its root, this work examines the conceptualisation of the individual as insignificant and acted as a profound visual account of the strength of the collective concept in China even as it concurrently embraces a laissez-faire western economic model.

Dichotomies of collective action versus individual pursuit, social justice versus government inactivity also featured prominently in the Post Museum’s public action work. During their residency in Melbourne, they gathered together a number of social justice groups that included Green Renters and Project Respect. Documented as part video work, part installation All Together Now (2010) brought together representatives from these disparate groups in the city of Melbourne. Forming a singular circular mass through an interlinked t-shirt, they meandered slowly down Bourke St amid a sea of curious onlookers. The object of the interlinked t-shirt became a strong visual metaphor for the importance of social justice groups supporting and influencing our everyday for the better. Adopting the approach of outsider looking inwards, Post Museum created a work that subtly critiques the social apathy that so often is embedded in societies such as Australia and Singapore.

Devoid of this social edge, but no less impressive in its scope, House of Natural Fibre’s new media installation S.A.T.U (Saturn Analogy of Trans-Urgency) (2010) explored hexagonal geometric theory and ruptured the relative calm at the rear of the Meat Market space as experimental computer bleeps and noises created its own distinct soundscape. Repeating the form of the hexagon, both in structural elements of this sculptural work and in video, the viewer was immersed within a field of geometry as a dazzling interplay of light and sound enveloped the space.

As I walked in and among each pavilion, aesthetic links began to emerge from the diverse cultural and conceptual works of each ARI. Geometric forms also made up the structural elements of Boxcopy’s process driven mixed-media installation Simple Pleasures (2010) which recalled imagery of the humble shed, as paraphernalia of a suburban existence: stubbie holders, bikes and sporting equipment, were strategically littered throughout. Strategies of documentation were also embedded in Y3K’s space, which used large sheets of flaccid fabric to demarcate and created a sort of ‘anti-pavilion’. These aesthetic interplays and the intermingling of distinct artistic identities imbued the exhibition with a sense of dynamism and occasion. No doubt due to the considered curatorial hand of Jeff Khan and Ulanda Blair, as spectator the visual over-stimulation left me in a continual state of unrest as I was continually drawn into each space only to be spat out the other end. Before leaving, I sat down and took a quiet moment to view Safari Team’s video work Dig to China – part III (2009). Housed in its own mini-viewing amphitheatre as part of Westspace’s pavilion, this work is ultimately a process of discovery, as each protagonist dives, digs and journeys closer to the centre of the earth. Throwing caution to the wind, Safari Team’s delightfully stylized exploratory account of what lies beneath the surface eloquently and humourously reminded me that risks are always worth taking no matter what the cost.

Copyright Leon Goh & Runway Magazine 2010