Dressing Rooms

What are rooms for? Refuge from outside elements; environments for exclusion; enclosures in which to conduct rituals, hide alone, come together, and rest our bodies – perhaps with one another. A room is a space in which walls will separate you from others, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force.

How does one dress a room? The way one dresses a body. It need not be about covering up, but about allowing ones physicality to be addressed, to be touched by another more temporary structure. Like a body encoded by textiles, a room can (momentarily) elide its physical reality through the application of provisional systems: a voile curtain over barred windows; bright acrylic paint applied to hard stone; an A4 drawing of flowers, tacked up with masking tape onto breeze block. These are all attempts at making-do, staging softly, and hosting well in hard spaces. (Rooms of pleasure should never be the reserve of the bourgeois.)

Rooms and the way they are dressed imply certain protocols. One can be in a kitchen, dicing an onion, only to find oneself suddenly thinking about the grief of a recently bereaved friend. There is nothing that seemingly links you to that person in that moment apart from the prior existence of friendship and the present fact of tears. But there is something about the physicality of that moment: the way you walked into the space of the kitchen that afternoon, picked up that chopping board, and sank the knife into the translucent skin of the vegetable, tip first. It was this arrangement – a rhythm of a room and its contents – that contributed to and composed a scenario of possible thoughts. On this occasion, it brought forth a friend. How one chooses to sequence a space – negotiate its objects, patterns, light, and contemplate the movement of bodies around and through those elements – is to anticipate the future. It is a matter of choreography.

In an empty room – a room stripped of furniture – any object introduced into the space must be held, or else it must sit on the floor. In this way, bodies and objects are pooled together on a single horizontal plane. All things levelled. Submitting to the condition of being horizontal also means submitting to the condition of being vulnerable, and so one must take care how and where one chooses to place smaller objects, or how one permits bodies to move around them. (Parents of babies become experts at occupying the floor. They kneel, they roll, they lie on their fronts, they lie on their backs. A baby in a room offers up a different perspective of the world.)

In a dark room – a room stripped of daylight – time is submerged into a perpetual state of night. This is an environment less real than exterior time; it is more imaginary, more ancient. Draping over or boarding up a window is a form of blocking out the world – a blacking out, a forgetting of the outside. (It can also be a way of the outside forgetting what is inside.) But what kind of positive social conditions does an unlit interior produce? The pleasure of darkness in a room is often contingent on the presence of others. Electricity and bodies and music – these three things together can transform the horizontal plane from a floor on which to lie into a floor on which to move. The desire to find refuge among an assembly of other bodies in a single room is a reflection of the failure to find a comparable situation beyond those walls. This room possesses a different tempo from the outside. It is specific to an evening, a night, a weekend – the feeling of time rolling together.

A room is not just a refuge. Under certain circumstances, it is a regime; it divides up what is in and what is out. A reconstructed room – a room previously disassembled or destroyed – is created by those who get to choose what is in or out of memory. The room is inevitably a fiction, since reconstructions trade on the look and feel of things terminally absent. Even in a perfect copy, the interactions the room once housed cannot be restaged through nostalgia alone. They must be refashioned by those present.

 

A version of this text was published in Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s An Autumn Lexicon.

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