Chris Doyle: The Art of Jumping on Beds and the ‘50,000 Beds’ Project

Travel Interviews: Forty-five artists shot videos and films in hotel rooms. Michael Yessis asks the man behind the effort what intrigues him about hotel rooms, as well as the seductiveness of jumping on hotel room beds.

07.20.07 | 9:48 AM ET

imageStill image from Scott by Jorge Colombo, courtesy of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

About three years ago, three contemporary exhibit spaces in Connecticut—the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Artspace in New Haven and Real Art Ways in Hartford—decided to collaborate on a travel-related art project they hoped would inspire travel through the state. They asked five artists for ideas. The winner: Chris Doyle. The Brooklyn-based artist envisioned 50,000 Beds—approximately the number of hotel beds in Connecticut—an exhibition of 45 pieces of commissioned video art to be shown simultaneously at the three institutions. The artists each spent a night or two in a hotel room, where they made their art. The inventive pieces range from retouching existing hotel room art to a re-creation of a scene from a Robert Altman movie.

“50,000 Beds” begins this weekend with staggered openings Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the three Connecticut museums and will run into September. To inspire travel from one museum to the next, each will show only one-third of the films. I spoke with Doyle as he was making his final travel plans for his project’s debut.

World Hum: Where did your idea for “50,000 Beds” come from?

imagePhoto of Chris Doyle, courtesy of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

Chris Doyle: At the moment they contacted me I was traveling a lot doing my own work making animations in hotel rooms. And since a lot of my projects involved collaborations between people, I thought it would be interesting to do a collaboration between the three institutions, taking my idea of using the hotel room as a studio, a place for making art, and extending that to other artists.

What’s intriguing about the hotel room as a place to create art?

A lot. There are many layers in the hotel room. I guess I start out by being interested in the blank canvas aspect of the hotel room. You go in and it’s fresh and clean—a kind of sanctuary away from the everyday. I still go into a hotel room sometimes and feel that moment when you’re a kid and you go in and say, “Wow!” and jump on the bed. It’s a fresh space to do something in.

You mention jumping on beds. I’m curious if you’ve seen other web-based projects like

I actually haven’t, but the idea of jumping on the bed is clearly in the air. A number of artists used it in a way in their projects. I think it’s the idea of liberation and the time away from your everyday life that the hotel room allows. You get this sense of freedom. In a way, that sense of freedom in the hotel room is one of the major ideas at the core of the project, because it’s the idea that if you give 45 people the opportunity in a sanctuary outside of their every day life, you have no idea what they’re going to come up with. There is this kind of sense of liberation from their own work.

Did you give any instructions to the artists?

The only instruction I gave people was to shoot in the room. Two reasons. One, we didn’t want to engage the entire hotel. We told the hotels we were going do small, minimally invasive shoots. I wanted them to shoot in the room for that reason, but also for the whole behind closed doors aspect. When you walk down the hallway in a hotel, you don’t know what’s going on in all those rooms. I wanted them to all be inside-the-room pieces.

What was the response of the artists? Were they pretty enthusiastic?

They were. Basically, artists love the opportunity to make new work and they love the opportunity to have a deadline. There’s nothing that inspires artists more to make new work than actually having a deadline, myself included. I think a number of them thought it was a chance to make work and have a mini-vacation at the same time.

Was there anything particularly surprising about what the artists did?

It’s obviously really different than what I would do. As an experiment, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, and I was committed to using whatever I got. I would say, for the most part, I was pleased and often times surprised.

One of the things I was really surprised by was the level of commitment. Some people made some very serious, very elaborate productions with large casts and crews. That was the thing that surprised me most. I was expecting the pieces where it was one person in a hotel room, where they brought an actor or another person and made something at that scale. The things I wasn’t expecting were the pieces that had a cast of 15 people and they were all in the hotel room. That was amazing.

There’s a wonderful piece by an artist named Melissa Friedling, where she re-creates the opening scene of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” the Robert Altman movie. She re-creates it with fictional Greenwich hedge fund managers. So the prospectors have become hedge fund guys. And they’re all in fancy suits in a hotel room playing poker, and it’s just using the soundtrack of the opening scene of the Altman film and just re-creating the location. You know, you have 20 people in suits and they’re all playing poker. It was an amazingly elaborate production. So a lot of them were like that, large scale and labor intensive.

Now that you’ve gone through this, has your impression of the hotel room changed?

It has. Having seen these videos, one of the things that’s really changed is that I don’t look at the hotel room in the same way anymore. I don’t ever think, “Wow, this is great, a fresh clean sanctuary.” I think, “It’s probably not as clean as I think it is.” But I also think it takes a tremendous number of hours of housekeeping staff and labor to keep it going. I think I’m a lot more sensitive to the work involved in maintaining that clean slate, which I think is interesting. I think that whenever art actually changes the way you think, then it’s in some way doing its job.

Since I’m traveling for work, I’ve also become more like a business traveler,  There’s a tremendous ennui that happens—you’re sort of passing through these spaces and you don’t know anyone and there’s time to kill and there’s television. The more time you spend at hotels, the more that weird hotel boredom zone takes over. That’s not always a good thing. I’m trying to be more upbeat about the idea of hotels and travel. But it’s funny the more you do it, the less excited you are about it.

There’s a lot of talk now about sustainable tourism. Tell me a little more about your thoughts on housekeeping at hotels and how that makes it into your work.

In the beginning, one of the things that got my attention is the curious relationship you have with the housekeeping staff in the sense that you have your belongings—I’m a particularly messy traveler, so I leave things all over the place—and the way they kind of neaten up over the course of the day. That movement of the object. Like the shirt that was on the floor suddenly is on a chair seemed very much like the animations I was making, and so that relationship with the housekeeping staff kind of was one of the early reasons why I’ve had the beds be stop-action animated.

The Hotel Bernini pieces and some of the bed pieces were really about the curious relationship with the staff. It becomes like this silent communication. So, oddly, that was part of the early conception. The actual amount of labor—and resources required to maintain the hotel—is something that is interesting to me. I’m starting to see in hotels things that say, “If you don’t want your towels washed, put this card on the bed.”

When you envisioned the project did you equally have the artists and travelers in mind?

I think so. I’ve been thinking a lot about travel because of the burgeoning art tourism. It’s a cultural phenomenon right now, really. The thing that got it going in my mind at least—I’m sure it was earlier—was when Frank Gehry built Bilbao, when people actually made pilgrimages to this place that they’d never considered going to because there’s a large museum there. That kind of cultural tourism expanded to the art fairs where people travel—to the Venice Biennale and various European art fairs—as well as Miami Basel and The Armory Show in New York. Then more and more art fairs showed up, so I’d been thinking a lot about art tourism.

When these three institutions started to collaborate it seemed like they wanted to take the state of Connecticut, which wasn’t that familiar with art tourism as a phenomenon, and kind of bring it up to speed, and say that we think that by creating this show we can create travel. The interesting thing to me is that I thought we could generate travel and at the same time make new work, and it would benefit everybody. And so I think the idea of having people travel to make the pieces was one layer, and the idea of having people travel to see the show is the other layer. And it’s funny because as I prepare to go to the openings, I’m having to Google travel sites and figure out where to stay. So it’s sort of working the way it’s supposed to.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the work will be displayed?

I wanted it to work so that seeing one show would interest and intrigue you enough to go see the other shows, first of all. But I didn’t want you to feel like if you saw one show you were missing something by not seeing the other shows. So the shows had to stand alone and intrigue you. Each installation is tailored specifically for the space that I had in each place, so I built constructions in each location that are structured for viewing these projects.

When you walk in, you won’t just see one screen with the videos cycling through it. All the videos will simultaneously be up on either monitors or projectors. You’ll move through this space, up a series of ramps and catwalks, and you’ll be able to view each individually. But at the same time you’ll get a sense of all them going at the same time in relationship to each other. So each venue has a fairly elaborate construction.

And for those who can’t make it to Connecticut, some of the videos are on the 50,000 Beds Web site.

I’ll keep changing those. Ultimately, the Web site will archive all of the pieces in their entirety. But that’s something we don’t want to do until the exhibition comes down [in September].

Another thing we’re considering doing—and I’m getting kind of serious about this—is trying to extend the project beyond the state of Connecticut, and quite possibly opening it up to user generated content, where people might make videos and submit them to the site with the label of what state they’re in.

Thanks, Chris.