The hotel is empty today. It’s empty almost everyday.
Sunlight shines over the wood panelling and empty mail slots of a perfectly preserved but unmanned reception desk, the rounded lettering announces the normal functions of a hotel: Cashier, Reception, Concierge, a typography moderne in the 60's but now seems quaintly retro-futurist. Lamps like oriental birdcages hang over the clean lines and airy space of the lobby.
They hang over the dining room as well. Hundreds of places along tables draped in cloth, set with stainless steel cutlery and fine china, napkins arrayed upward for each setting like dry desert flowers. This grand dining room too is empty, or almost empty. Only a single couple sips coffee (or more likely tea) far in the distance looking lonesome in the perfectly arranged room.
The bowels of the hotel are still busy however, or if not busy exactly, at least active. White shirted men fold laundry amidst clang and steam. Though hardly humming at capacity, a skeleton crew in double-breasted chef coats (with one hatted in a white toque) taste and cook amidst polished chrome and stacks of plates in the kitchen.
Outside, as day turns to night, the high arched windows (seven) shine with light onto an empty road in front, an employee waits outside the doors for someone, anyone, perhaps a guest, to come.
The long hallways are not entirely empty. Just enough sprinkling of guests and workmen to make it all the more lonesome.
This is the Seven Arches Hotel, built by the Jordanian royal family in 1964, it served that same year as the site for the first meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the signing of the Palestinian charter. It is currently and curiously managed by the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Department of Missing Person’s Property. All of the workers are thus technically employees of the government of Israel. Standing empty most of the year, the hotel seems far from abandoned, but lovingly kept up, even if never updated in its furnishings. It looks almost like a museum, a decent location for a mildly orientalist, period remake of The Shining, even if it is never quite so sinister as the site of Jack Nicholson’s winter of discontent.
The Seven Arches sits atop the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (just above a Jewish cemetery, quite a few of whose gravestones were removed to build a road for the hotel), overlooking the forcefully unified but spiritually claimed capital of both Israel and Palestine. It’s property status under curious circumstances after the War of 1967 in which Israel kicked Jordan out of East Jerusalem.
(Image: Nir Evron, Stills from Revisiting Lawrence (Replacing all the cuts with Cross-Dissolves) (2005), Digital Video. DVD. Monitor. Stereo Sound. 3 hours. Courtesy of the artist)
The hotel is lovingly and quietly documented by Tel Aviv-based Nir Evron in a video currently on view at the CCA in Tel Aviv as a part of a survey of the artist’s last few years of practice.
Evron’s films ride along the edge of sci-fi dread without ever quite crossing the line. Echoes of Kubrick’s The Shining as well as Space Odyssey give a sense of failed modernity, of some strange specter haunting the edges of lonesome future territories. The video, titled Oriental Arch, 2009, is emblematic of Evron’s work that often takes sites stalled in liminal states, or just before or after such dramatic shifts of state. With a tracked and unmanned camera programmed to spin just so, another video, A Free Moment, 2011, documents the bones of the abandoned construction of a Jordanian palace on territory now controlled by Israel. Other works on view (video and film) deal with moments of material and political transformation as well. In Echo, 2008, Evron takes 16mm footage from Israeli national television (some of the last film stock used by news channel before switching to video) of the first major workers’ riots surrounding the closing of an historic textile mill in 1985 and digitizes it. The video becomes a weave of pixels accompanied by a fractured soundtrack, a spooky guitar breaks down quarter notes in interlocking layers of sound. In another, titled Revisiting Lawrence, 2005, Evron recuts the classic David Lean cinematic epic, Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole and replaces all the cuts with fades between pictures. It ruins the film but breaks down the seamless cinematic pacing and fiction of the film. The cross-dissolve is usually used to mark shifts in time and space, but here it disorients the narrative. Lawrence, who served as one of the architects for the current map of the Middle East, was attempting to create countries, political fictions, out of the warring tribes under Ottoman control (and by some accounts helped ensure the creation of the State of Israel through horsetrading with his British superiors and Arab allies). Evron’s interrupted fiction hints in some ways at the political fictions that have riven the region ever since.
Evron has a masterful ability in manipulating the moving image, each of his works are perfectly and intelligently realized. But it is only in Revisiting Lawrence, which in some ways is the least successful and also the least authored work in the show, that he attempts to do the one thing the other videos lack - break his seamless ability to make moving pictures. Evron’s films are so elegantly made, one wishes for an interruption, for the exhibition space to be somehow messier, for something to puncture his perfect picture planes. And though Revisiting Lawrence may be the least satisfying work, its visual awkwardness is the only moment in the exhibition that chance or a certain messiness of risk cracks the artist's flawless sci-fi modernism.
Evron’s take on the Seven Arches hotel perfectly mirrors his own practice: politically liminal, spotlessly clean, meditatively quiet, beautiful realized, longing for a disorderly humanity to make it come alive.
(Image: Nir Evron, Oriental Arch, 2009, (Still) Single Screen HD projection. HDCam. Surround 5.1 Sound. 18 min. © Courtesy the artist and CCA, Tel Aviv.)