When choosing a location in Toronto to inspire my project, I was struck by a laundromat nearby my house. The laundromat appealed to me on multiple levels. First of all, laundromats serve important functions in big cities such as Toronto, yet are little thought about–and there was something interesting to me about investigating the overlooked. Secondly, the laundromat is integral to my particular neighbourhood in St. Clair West. It signifies a certain socioeconomic status: people who do not own their own washing machines or have access to them in their homes, and evokes the often associated Benjaminian transitoriness of apartment living. Finally, the laundromat which was the particular source of my inspiration was appealing in its specific quirks and charms: the uniqueness and special attachment I formed to this particular laundromat brought me to interrogate what is typically considered a space of the mundane and the everyday, an experience I wanted to share with my viewers. A key cue from the laundromat that prompted this interrogation appears as the cover photo of my shoebox: the handwritten sign on the building’s door saying, “this is not a walkway”. As there are doors at both ends of the laundromat leading to both the street and alley, the woman who maintains the facilities and lives above the space put up this sign because she doesn’t like people using the building as a shortcut. For me, this sign went beyond surface meaning and got me to think more closely about the space of the laundromat and its purpose and uses. How indeed might the space serve as a ‘walkway’ through life for the people who inhabit the neighbourhood? What other uses might it serve or unique experiences might it provide? My own experiences taught me to question any simple understanding of the laundromat as purely commercial and functional, but to view it as a complex and interesting space that might perhaps be meditative, contemplative, community-building, isolating and much more.
The shoe part of my project was in some regards more straightforward than the box I designed, intended as a prelude or teaser to the box. The materials used were found laundry-related items: dryer sheets, detergent bottle lid, and a slipper I purchased at the dollar store. I was drawn to that particular slipper because of its colours (the blue and white of laundry soap), towel-like texture (or like that of a house coat) and comfortable appearance. In my final construction, which resembled a stylish, flowered heel in form, I played with the loaded and culturally constructed concept of laundry, juxtaposing the imagery of comfort, home and nature commonly drawn upon in laundry-related advertising, with the potentially commercial space of the laundromat and the mundanity of the task itself (through the title), in order to provoke questions about the nature of laundry as an activity in contemporary society, in what I hope was a kind of palimpsestic amalgamation.
Whereas the shoe played with the larger cultural concept of laundry, the second element of the project, the shoebox, aimed to abstract the space of a specific laundromat as a form of interrogation. The two pieces were connected materially and stylistically through the motif of the circular mirror—evoking the circular window of a washer and/or dryer—which made up the centre of the dryer-sheet flower of the shoe, and appeared many times in the box itself. My biggest theoretical inspiration for the shoebox was de Certeau’s chapter on walking from The Practice of Everyday Life, particularly his discussion of walking as a phenomenologically-oriented method of navigating, creating and knowing space. What appealed to me was the immediacy of knowing a space not only visually but corporeally and sensorially: de Certeau takes proximity rather than objectivity as “epistemological point of departure and return” (Conquergood qtd. in Janssen 156).
de Certeau observes that, “the long poem of walking,” as alternative methodology, “manipulates spatial organizations” (101), and I sought to engage with this by manipulating the space of the laundromat within my box, using my own experiences in the laundromat to anchor the viewer’s independent inquiry, attempting some sort of translation of my experience through the medium of the work, to provide a non-didactic space of reflection. My goal in this creation was to provoke, through an almost Brechtian ‘making strange’, a critical examination of the seeming mundane to see what other possibilities and creative potentials reside there through alternative epistemological methods. Employing abstraction as a form of interrogation and using materials/images drawn directly from the laundromat itself, I sought to evoke what de Certeau calls the, “certain strangeness that does not surface,” (93) that belongs to the everyday. I hoped to make evident this strangeness through my creation in the box of an ‘other spatiality’ – “an ‘anthropological,’ poetic and mythic experience of space” (93). For example, the lighting scheme inside the box was inspired by the bizarre contradictory red and lime green paint scheme of the space. One important picture which captured the overlapping doors of two dryers (see Fig. below), drew attention to and abstracted the bubble shape of lid, and evoked in me a reflective turn of mind. Another concept that was important to me in this abstraction was de Certeau’s observations of the ‘instability of the image’ and the “wandering of the semantic” (102) facilitated through walking. In this project abstraction allowed the viewer a kind of spatial experience that was open-ended and subjectively available, which was evident to me in the range of moods and reactions that viewers of the piece reported.
The video and audio components of the piece (video of a washing machine spinning clothes and audio of me reading directions off the Tide Box) were important as they engaged with the critical temporal dimension of the laundromat experience: spending time (perhaps in both senses of the phrase), but also repeating time, as with the cycle of the washing spinning around.
Particularly for the shoebox portion of the project, the process of artistic creation in-and-of-itself had a huge influence on the working through and creation of the piece and really informed the final product. Throughout this process, to my surprise, I found that the material elements of creation and my direct, visceral response to the space superseded theory and planning in terms of its generative potential; and, in fact, I found that ‘thinking’ got in the way. This was a new way of working for me, as Shauna productively phrased it, a “collaboration” with the space of the laundromat (manifested in notes, audio files, videos/photographs and my own experience) and the materials of construction. This material working-through of ideas (as observed already by some members of the class) felt analogous to, yet quite different from the theoretical thinking-through I typically employ in the process of paper-writing. This creation-driven process really helped me to understand the space of my laundromat and my relationship to it in a way that thinking or theory could not on its own. Throughout the project, this hands-on process of artistic creation was an epistemological mode arguably analogous to Certeau’s examination of walking as epistemology. The final collaborative process of the piece occurred, I hope, between viewer and work in the space of the artistic encounter. Through this collaboration, inspired by my interest in relational aesthetics, I hoped the viewer might add to the process of art-making by playing the part of the flaneur and taking away from my laundromat scene their own interpretation. – Signy Lynch