The Walls Have Peepholes

I got picked for The Walls Have Peepholes, a public art project being organized by the Riversdale BID. I thought I would post my (hastily written) proposal. It’s a bit awkward, but the project will kick ass. It has to be finished by the end of August.

Megan Morman
Submission for The Walls Have Peepholes

Overlook is a diorama of mice dancing in a ballroom based on the Gold Room from the Stanley Kubrik film The Shining. With it, the project investigates our contemporary individual and community relationships to the romance of history.

It’s All Forgotten Now
In the film The Shining (1980), father Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) descends into madness as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, closed for the winter in the Colorado mountains. A hot party spot for the rich and famous since the 1920s, the hotel has had more than its share of horrific happenings — most swept under the rug by management eager to keep customers coming. The Overlook is decorated in a mixture of graphic 70’s modern and art deco glam. Its massive Gold Room ballroom is scene of Jack’s interactions with ghosts from the hotel’s past, including a sinister bartender. When Jack goes to the ballroom to escape from his writers’ block, the flapper ball he encounters there on his last visit is both glitteringly decadent and melancholy. Throughout the film Jack is seduced by these ghostly characters, who quietly nudge him into his final acts of violence.

I find myself both attracted to and terrified by pre-WWII extravagance; it’s the last desperate denial before you find the world falling down around you. The glamour itself implies falseness: a magical dusting of pretty on your warty nose. “It’s All Forgotten Now” plays wistfully while the Gold Room during the ball. “It’s all forgotten now, the trouble and the pain,” croons Al Bowlly. The ballroom as scene of forgetting is a fairly common cultural/cinematic theme. I want to point to the Kit Kat Club in Cabaret. Also the hallucinatory ballroom scene in Labyrinth: just as Sarah’s time is running out, she eats the goblin king’s poisoned peach and is whisked away to a glittering costume ball, with the intention of seducing her into ignoring the dangerous reality outside.

Bad Guy, Bad Guy

I’m aware that the “sadness of the empty ballroom” can be somewhat of a melodramatic cliché, but clichés are
the currency being traded. The romance of the past is a step beyond nostalgia. We take only what we want from the past. Real people and places become sanitized caricatures, removed from their modern-day ‘undesirable’ counterparts. Hazy opium dens, old-west brothels and mobsters in zoot suits are safe and acceptable fantasies for white, upper-middle class tourists who would run scared (of drugs, gangs and the sex industry) after sundown. These images been used very successfully by marketers in Moose Jaw, who have built their tourist industry on titillating but dubious mobster lore. They’ve also been invoked by Saskatoon leaders keen on renewing interest in Saskatoon’s centennial and the core neighbourhoods, particularly Riversdale. It’s undeniably ironic that a neighbourhood trying to shed its bad (in the eyes of many) reputation would embrace another era’s bad guys.

The Overlook
The project’s title, Overlook, refers to several things: the name of The Shining‘s hotel, what we do to unpleasant details, and our view of the scene inside the box.

On one hand, the ballroom diorama is an eminently palatable version of the past. The dancers are as cute as cute can be: they’re furry little mice. The room will be lush, sparkly, and golden, and also obviously handmade — rendered meticulously, but in fuzzy pixels. At the same time its subject matter is anything but nice. The Gold ballroom is archetype of romantic escapism taken to a hallucinatory level. Like much of my work, Overlook is simultaneously earnest tribute and critical scrutinization.

So Details Then
The top of the box will be strung with hanging beads, creating the illusion of an enormous chandelier; light from the top will cast glittery golden light all over the inside. The two sides will be mirrored, to create the illusion of width – as if the ballroom stretched through the whole inside wall of the building. On the floor will be an inlaid-felt replica of the Overlook hotel’s hexagonal carpet. Along the back wall, a wooden bar will stretch from mirror to mirror; above it a small beaded B&W photograph of people socializing. Inside the box will be a pair of miniature round banquet tables with chairs, and several furry mice enjoying the party. In evening gowns.

The diorama will be accompanied by an audio track: “It’s All Forgotten Now”, by the Ray Noble Orchestra, sung by Al Bowlly (1934).

I’d like to work with a large, wide-angle peephole, to ensure that the mirrors’ reflections are viewable. Although I think the project could work in a variety of locations, I’m interested in installation sites that have in the past been hotels, such as the Albany or Fields, the former site of the King Edward Hotel. I think it might fit really well at the Roxy Theatre too.