Motel Room

Jordan Topiel Paul & J. Gordon Faylor
October 9-12, 2015
HDTS: Epicenter
Robber's Roost Motel, Room #15, Green River UT


Installation view / text, available here in PDF format

Installation view / video

Video component: still images with audio recordings


It's been three years now since I took a traveling field research job that sends me for weeks, sometimes months at a time on the road throughout the United States. By day, I drive a rental car from one data collection site to the next. By night, I arrive at a nondescript motel, open my door with the swipe of a keycard, and within a few hours fall asleep.

After drifting from one motel to another, from Massachusetts to Florida to Tennessee to North Dakota to Kansas, etc., I began to experience something surreal-- that I could travel hundreds of miles each day and still arrive in what felt like the same place each night. On one hand, these motels are designed with such a smooth aesthetic (more accurately: anaesthetic) that one could ignore their details and experience only the repetitive architecture of sameness regardless of the location. On the other hand, a durational repetition of this structure amplifies the small details that stand out as slightly distinct: the view from the window, an awkwardly placed door stop, an unusual carpet pattern, an especially loud mini-fridge.

Since falling under the hypnotic spell of the US motel travel experience, I began taking photos and audio recordings in these strange structures. Are they not a dispersed, disjointed masterpiece of serial minimalist architecture? Observing the unattended details of these spaces, what do we learn about attenuation by design?


A definition of attenuation is the perceptual reduction of a repetitive or constant signal-- for instance, when you cease to hear the hum of an air conditioner in your room after some time. This phenomenon has become a common thread in my work, in projects ranging from a Smooth Jazz research/DJ outfit, to web-based sound installations, to electro-acoustic music performances. In each of these areas, materials are situated on the edge between background noise and signal, attenuated and attended. The causes of attenuation are culturally mediated as well as physiological: As I write this, I barely notice the noise coming from out my window, the texture of the ceiling, or my laptop screen color settings. Someone who hasn't been here would hear the trucks, construction hammering, sirens, street vendors, dogs barking, airplanes passing, etc., and see the strange stucco ceiling and reddish tint of my screen-- which I only hear and see now because I'm thinking about them. This is a feature of being at home in an environment. Attenuation of detail is central to motel design: on entering, guests experience a sterile familiarity that allows them, in the absence of feeling like any other place, to feel at home.


Motel Room, running from October 9 to 12 in Green River Utah, is a multimedia meditation on motel aesthetics presented in its native environment: a motel room. Faylor's text for the installation simultaneously operates within and riffs on these phenomenological qualities. With facets of theory and fiction, it edges toward text's limits as repeatable objects in a linear space. From other angles it points beyond that space-- to the room where it sits, to the audio recordings and photos of rooms similar to it. Together the installation functions as a mise en abyme of the smooth, the serial, the attenuated.


From the days of its settling, the majority of people who experience Green River do so as a waypoint to other destinations, whether spending the night in a motel room or refueling at the truck stop. This is clear from the number of motels that populate both sides of Main Street. From a resident's perspective, however, Green River is slow, permanent, and known in minute detail. There could be no better place to contemplate the features of motel aesthetics than a town rooted on one hand in transient experience, and on the other, in isolated stillness.

Many thanks to Epicenter and HDTS staff for making this possible-- and especially to Maria Sykes for technical support. Thanks to Bennett Williamson for connecting us all.