In the installation and durational performance Best Western, the artists create a scene aesthetically derived from their studies of nineteenth-century Orientalist painting. In reference to the perpetuated stereotypes of exoticism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region), Mamou and Salmon present a contemporary tableau vivant in which they are the subjects.
A steam-to-water distiller (similar to a perfume distiller), made from a pressure cooker and copper pipe, runs in the space. It is continuously extracting the smell from eight travel guidebooks about Morocco in the form of hydrosol, or scented water.
During Best Western, this steaming scented water drips onto Salmon’s skin, imbuing her with the scent of the travel guides while Mamou monitors the scene, dressed in a blue gingham robe (tailored by Mr. Abdelmajid Lahouaouzi in the medina of Marrakech). Over the course of the three-hour performance, Mamou chain-smokes Marlboro Red cigarettes while Salmon’s skin is literally burned with the residue of tourism.
Through their use of materials, particularly denim and gingham associated with the American West and the patriotism of apple pie, the artists reference the 20th-century American Dream of simplicity, wholesomeness, and family values. Their actions conversely and self-critically examine the Western fascination in the “exotic” cultures of the MENA region.
The traveler of the past, seeking adventure in “foreign” lands, is replaced by the contemporary tourist, whose desire for luxurious experiences and souvenirs overruns cities such as Marrakech. “Best Western” explores the ever-evolving roles of the international artist in such scenarios who occupy both spheres as self-critic and unavoidable tourist.
Images by Ishmael Claxton and Regina Mamou.