Critipeg: Only the dead wear shoes to bed

Ming Hon’s hotel room at Synonym

Hotel Room/Only the Dead Wear Shoes to Bed, a multimedia installation which took place in the basement of Forth, featured four videos, a large installation and a performance by artist and contemporary dancer Ming Hon.

The installation had a familiarity – a standard hotel room featuring two beds and a television. On one of the beds, a projection of Hon ate shrimp while looking swanky in her bathrobe. On the television, a series of scenes flashed, including news footage about Donald Trump and a clip from what appeared to be a horror movie called “Bathroom Betty.”

This space, and Hon’s 15-minute performance within it, was the product of a research residency Hon had been doing as part of Forth Projects.

The very first video the audience encountered upon entering the space showed Hon in a hotel room, looking out a veiled window. Visible behind the curtain was the prototypical shade of heat-vision red indicating “very hot.” Hon, in the foreground, repetitively peeked outside and recoiled in apparent fear.

This, alongside the Trump clips, situated the context: environmentally hopeless and politically terrifying. Hon’s artist statement made this even more clear: “For the audience it is slowly revealed that the room is an idyllic imagined refuge from the world outside, pre apocalyptic, warstricken, and blazing from environmental disaster.”

Yet, we were inside a clean, white hotel room, soothed by the sense of soft luxury. Is this familiar “hotel room” not the home we live inside every day, where we seek refuge from the fear and disasters that rage on outside our walls, beyond our borders?

The installation included a walk-in shower, featuring the same lipsticked “R.I.P.” inscription on the glass that the character in “Bathroom Betty” drew on her own mirror.

A final video showed Hon walking the halls of the hotel and leaning inside the hotel room doorway, shots reminiscent to those in “Bathroom Betty.”

Hon consistently and effectively drew the audience into her intimate installation. Twice she held up reflective surfaces (a silver serving platter and a full-length mirror) and flashed them around the room, allowing each audience member to see themselves in the reflection – in the hotel room. Every individual was implicated in Hon’s room of fantasy and avoidance, forced to reckon with their own tenuous tactics to hide from the world.

The “Bathroom Betty” clip, and its recreation upon the bathroom wall and in that final video, pointed to the drama of reaction. Every generation has felt the world would end within their lifetime – how do we respond to the horrors of living, without resorting to fatalism?

Hon’s performance was both legible and relevant. The statement written just outside of the installation/performance space explained the connection to the apocalypse, represented by the heat-vision window, the clips of Trump and the flickering, failing video projection of Hon lying peacefully on the bed as real-time Hon scrambled and hid. Perhaps this is the benefit of performing a work in progress: the ideas are fresh, drawing clear connections between the artist’s thoughts and their expression, allowing the audience to easily follow along.

Published in Volume 72, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 28, 2017)

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