Self-service laundries, where you can wash your clothes when you don’t have a washing machine at home, don’t have a long tradition in Poland. But take the United States, for example, where laundromats are ubiquitous and aren’t just the domain of students. Though why are we talking about washing clothes on a website dedicated to art? Well, as you’re about to find out, the laundry room can be a space of accidental encounters with some truly original art!
Imagine you’re entering a laundromat with a bag full of dirty laundry and you see a row of neatly arranged washing machines, only that from some of them it is not fresh shirts or socks that stick out, but instead…mermaid tails. Do you take the risk and go inside or turn away right there? For the sake of the argument, let’s go in and find out what’s going on!
In 2018, artist and curator Olivia Erlanger, together with the owners of Mother Culture (art space), turned one of the laundromats in Los Angeles into a place where everyday life meets art in the most surreal way. “Actual-size” yellow and purple mermaid tails protruding from the open drums, to the complete amazement of the customers. There was no information in front of the entrance that an exhibition or a happening was taking place. Ida, as was this bizarre exhibition called, blurred in a very unusual way the boundary separating the ordinary space, which in this case is the laundry room, and the art space. And so, by sheer accident, one could experience something extraordinary.
Where did the idea for mermaid tails even come from? Was it there just to surprise unsuspecting customers? As is usually the case with art, there’s more to it that meets the eye. One of the themes to be referred to here is H. C. Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid whose protagonist, wanting to go ashore to unite with her beloved, had to get rid of her tail. As magic has it, she was given legs, but lost her voice as a result of the transformation. In this context, the mermaid becomes for the artist a symbol of a being that undergoes various changes under the pressure of external factors. The tail hanging from the washing machine makes us see the Little Mermaid in a somewhat different light. We can relate the fairy tale to ourselves, wondering how often in life we give up something that’s important to us and whether it is really worth it.
However, Olivia Erlanger is open to different interpretations of her work. The mermaid tails sticking out of the washing machines, completely surreal objects by themselves, may easily bring to mind other associations, or on the contrary, no associations whatsoever – they may simply surprise and that’s it. But that’s also what art does.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak