You’ve been here before. Perhaps it was late at night on a long road trip, when you pulled into a motel to sleep. The rough carpet, the fading floral curtains, the taupe walls coloured like waxy soap, the scent of cigarettes and Lysol: it’s all so familiar, yet so impersonal.
This is the Palm Crest & Suites – a budget hotel with a luxury name. It’s a figment of Paul Kopkau’s imagination, but his eponymous exhibition at Company Gallery gives it a smell and a texture. Low-pile, blue-grey carpet fills the gallery, such as might be found in an office building; sombre tones of black, wine-red and grey dominate the works on the walls. Several of the 12 wall-mounted sculptures bear real hotel-chain logos etched in Perspex or folded, origami-style, from metallic foil, while others combine craft-store materials – un-dyed yarn, woven wicker, rattan – for a much folksier effect.
In Palm Crest (full bloom) (2016), two ghostly figures – both made of long, un-dyed, mop-yarn threads bunched at the ‘neck’ by lengths of poly organza – contemplate a dull-taupe cityscape from inside a paned hotel window. Nothing grows amongst its spires but a shedding cypress – the Four Seasons Hotel logo – screen-printed at a sharp angle to the horizon, as if violently ripped from the earth. One of the figures reclines on a mauve paper bed, bearing a folded fan (a reference to the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain). Is this a pose of leisure or languish? The muted colours and pale, featureless faces are ambiguous, enhancing the sense of their isolation from the outside world, or their sense of uprootedness.
Kopkau’s homespun figures appear in several other works, such as The Fourth Season (2017) – which also features an autumnal cascade of cut-paper leaves – and Palm Crest #2 (full bloom) (2016). In both these works, the mop ghosts are outside, looking in: they hover at the edge of the frame, or beside a doorway. Implicit in Palm Crest’s false promise of luxury is a note of exclusion; not all can afford a warm bed. At the same time, while the materials used look expensive, the fabrics are, in fact, all polyester, the silvers metallic paint and foil, the glass simply Perspex. Kopkau’s play with the semiotics of luxury mimics our futile grasping at the trappings of wealth and power: we spend money we don’t have on things we can’t afford, just to appear richer than we are. Hotels sell us ‘imperial suites’ that are never quite as regal as the photographs suggest: the ‘wood grain’ just a laminate, the ‘silk’ curtains merely rayon.
Many of Kopkau’s materials are favourites of crafters, who use them to decorate picture frames, scrapbooks and other family keepsakes with care, making treasures of objects without monetary value. His rendering of the petit-bourgeois sentimentality of crafting is affectionate, even as the hard veneer of his etched Perspex adds a clinical quality to the works, like lobby decor. Kopkau’s fusion of prefabricated faux-luxury and cosy craftwork also refers to the modern ‘sharing’ economy of Airbnb, by which every domestic space can become a budget hotel, and its charms equally inauthentic.
In the midst of all this lies Barcelona (2016): a cheap hotel cot recast as a Mies van der Rohe-designed Barcelona Day Bed (1929), upholstered in the lush red of Sigmund Freud’s infamous chaise longue. It is simultaneously flimsy and comfortable. What could be more petit bourgeois than the analyst’s couch? Freud used it to make his patients feel at home, only so they might expose their vulnerabilities; in this sense, it is an ideal cipher for our unstable times. Palm Crest & Suites is not just a place – it is a condition.
Main image: Paul Kopkau, The Fourth Season, 2017, wood, wood stain, wire, MDF, spray paint, mop yarn, paper, automotive paint, wall texture, polyester velvet, polyester knit, modified plastic bags, steel, carpeting, string, brass nails, polyorganza, and thread, 2 x 1.6 m. Courtesy: the artist and Company Gallery, New York
First published in Issue 186