Popular culture has embedded the idea of roadside motels as a reprieve for tired travelers on long trips, spotted by large signs lining roadways declaring ‘MOTEL’ with ‘vacancy’ flashing in bright neon. A repetitious interior furnished with a bed, television, shower, dresser, and a large window overlooking the parking lot creates familiarity. During the 1960s these places were at their peak, a necessary stop for families and individuals. Their decline in popularity after the emergence of hotel chains has led to the association of these spaces with transience, drug use, and sex. An anonymous space operating on the margins of society where you can perform these actions in relative secrecy. The motel has become a liminal, or transitionary space for people living in-between. Many have taken up semi-permanent residence in motels due to financial hardship, declining health, and economic changes beyond their control.


Motels are available to anyone with the ability to pay, providing separation of the private from the public. This brief separation cannot undo the lingering history of the previous occupants. Fingerprints on a door show how many times it has been opened, closed, locked, and unlocked; the slow process of decay moving into the space through mold growing in the corners of a tub. Frayed linens show the years of folding, unfolding, washing, and rewashing. As motels occupy the space between commercial and domestic, the rooms are always in a state of being reset, trying to erase the presence of an occupant before the room is rented again.


Motel is an examination of these liminal spaces as they currently exist. The familiar interiors are in various states of disrepair and signs of the previous nights’ guest are still found throughout the room. Documenting these remains creates an archive of a space in transition. Signs of repeated usage slowly wear away at the room making it difficult to imagine these motels as a retreat for travelers. 

Copyright © 2020 Rachael Brittain. All rights reserved.
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