“There is one thing one should never do in a hotel room: commit suicide,” reads the opening line of an unwritten, vaguely unnecessary story about a hotel. Hotel rooms are, indeed, places that could not fully accommodate the immense and conflicting sense of tragedy and freedom of such an act; they are spaces ill-fitted for experiences that fall outside a certain predictability of temporary living. Photographer Malgorzata Wilarska explores the quality of the hotel room as non-place: a non-relational structure, impossible to colonise with personal histories, memory, or any evidence of humanity. In Nomad´s Hotel, Wilarska challenges the very architecture of a hotel room by visually deconstructing it, overlapping interior and exterior, with a clear intention to destabilise various symbolisms and affective dimensions attached to it: is this place really welcoming? Is it truly safe and intimate? Can it really be a temporary home?
Nomad´s Hotel is a visual rendition of isolated, undefined moments of despair; the uncanniness of recognising familiar domestic setting is doubled by a strange, unfriendly reality of being suspended in space and time. Wilarska makes the hotel room float in the unknowable mass of glass, steel, and darkness of the contemporary city. This sense of elevation reads as immateriality, emphasising the gap between physical and non-physical experience: a hotel room is a tangible space, yet leaves its inhabitants with a feeling of dematerialised, unfocused presence. This feeling might actually be the only accurate one in this context, as hotel rooms are spaces of transit; the only certainty here is that of passage, of inevitably vacating the space. Transient and shallow, the experience of a hotel room is somehow liberating: it doesn’t request information of origin or destination, it just acknowledges the nomad at an indeterminate moment of the journey.
Wilarska purposefully obscures elements of design and architecture: entrances are missing, walls are only suggested, light is under-functional. This aesthetic tendency towards the diffuse, the unrevealed reinforces the non-spatiality of the hotel room, which becomes anywhere and anywhen; this anonymity of place turns every hotel room in a repetition of another. In function and design, these rooms are only copies of an original that doesn’t really need to exist.
The fading physicality of the room in Wilarska´s project speaks to a larger tone of illusion associated with these spaces. From arriving to a room, to leaving it again, everything is an illusion: the arrival is met with a sense of purity and freshness, of a bed seemingly just put together for you, spotless surfaces, and no speck of dust. A clinical sense of cleanliness covers any trace of previous human presence, thus making histories impossible to imprint and survive. Your presence, your story, and any memories left in this place will be wiped out, dusted off, bleached, and discarded – an invisible, necessary, and sufficient ritual of erasure. If the hotel room is a friendly, cosy, welcoming space, it starts being so at the moment of arrival, and ends at the moment of departure.
The nomad is a perpetual traveller, never settled, never arriving. The strength of Wilarska´s vision lies with her subtle engagement with the tension of space that defines this nomadic experience. Nomad´s Hotel is a perfect visualisation of current relationships we have with urban and constructed space: not owning, not grasping anything for too long, not staying in one place long enough to have a claim over it, and not really wanting all of this in the first place.
Words: Elena Stanciu
Photography: From the series Nomad's Hotel by Malgorzata Wilarska