ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: At Alan Avery, Bryce Hammond turns sleazy motels into art

Review: At Alan Avery, Bryce Hammond turns sleazy motels into art

Bryce Hammond

In the recent movie “Spring Breakers,” boozy beach parties are merely the backdrop for something far more ominous. Florida native Bryce Hammond similarly explores the seedier elements of Daytona Beach — home to NASCAR, Bike Week and those wild spring rituals — in “Transient Motel,” at Alan Avery Art Company through November 9.

In an introductory wall text, Hammond says, “Through participation, I invite you to experience authentic objects, sounds and smells of Daytona Beach motel rooms that have been inhabited by victims of transient poverty.” The exhibition’s centerpiece, a re-created scuzzy motel room, does a fine job of making that experience possible.

Based on 11 such rooms the artist rented along the beachfront highway, it is replete with banged-up furniture, tattered carpet and an ugly bedspread that you wouldn’t want to see under a black light. (The mattress was treated for bedbugs.) A dresser drawer is opened to reveal the used condom and dead cockroach that housekeeping missed, and a Gideons Bible sits on the nightstand for the occupants’ lost souls.

Bryce HammondA jar full of cigarette butts (Parliaments) sits on one of two filthy plastic chairs, and remnants of a “shake and bake” methamphetamine lab are in the bathroom: a jar filled with cellophane packets of meth and a shattered, smoke-blackened jar from a failed attempt at cooking it. This is not the stuff of Heisenberg from “Breaking Bad.”

When this work was installed at the University of Central Florida, Hammond used a complete set of authentic jars and drips (from a real meth cooker), which resulted in his being questioned by campus security and the removal of items with chemical residue. For this show, beeswax plays the part.

Hammond animates the room with the projection of a short video loop made from earlier iterations of the piece. Those were based on his observations of a prostitute, her visitors and her children; a man moving from motel to motel with his two children and dog; and a social worker in pursuit.

At the opening, the installation was the setting for several performances by the artist’s 12-year-old daughter. Wearing a black dress, she entered the room, disrobed (she wore a nude bodysuit) and sat on the bed with her back to viewers as she melodiously sang the list of ingredients needed to make meth: acetone, denatured alcohol, hydrochloric acid, pseudoephedrine, red phosphorous…. The discrepancy among a child’s voice, the catchy tune, its ironic content and the sleazy setting was jarring and horrifying in its implication.

For one of those performances, visitors were encouraged to form a line and pass through the motel room and bathroom, an unnecessary bit of interactivity that added nothing to the experience.

Bryce Hammond: "Spring Break Sundries"
Bryce Hammond’s “Spring Break Sundries”

In the area behind the installation are four works inspired by touristy store-window displays that, in general, capture the essence of a place: “Ithaca is gorges” or “Don’t Mess With Texas.” In this case, black T-shirts are emblazoned with such lewd expressions as “beer slut” and “I’m here to fuck shit up.” You can practically smell the vomit.

While bedbugs are perhaps the most feared souvenir for travelers, termites might also be crawling around under their motel mattresses. For a series of drawings, Hammond sandwiched pieces of 10-year-old paper between plywood on a termite-infested bed frame and retrieved them more than a year later. The bugs had chewed trails through the sheets of paper, which each feature a schematic rendering of the motel room construction and a typed explanation of how these drawings were made.

Bryce Hammond 1319 Ocean Breeze

Even though all the works are thematically related, this show is a disjointed experience. In contrast to the installation, the paintings are pleasing depictions of motel exteriors and interiors. Each piece contains three versions of the same view rendered in different styles, ranging from realistic to abstract planes of color, shadow and light, like Monet’s studies of Rouen Cathedral.

Hammond has framed these unobjectionable paintings (threesomes?) on black velvet. If the intention was to give them an edge that would connect them to the installation, the gambit fails. The paintings still seem like formal architectural studies, while the installation delivers a lesson in economic disparity and general depravity. Sentiments of sympathy and antipathy collide, and aesthetics clash.

The high-low correlation is echoed by the show’s location in a tony Buckhead gallery, where viewers are able to safely “slum it,” not unlike the transient revelers who pass through the land of the permanently transient.

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