We spent quite a bit of time taking photographs of the Laundry Room at the York.
I have pondered why we both took so many images of this ‘secondary’ space. Perhaps the initial draw was that rooms like this (laundry rooms, mud rooms, foyers) serve in many ways as “staging areas” for the rest of life – they are where we sort, clean, and otherwise make presentable ourselves and what we wear into the world – so maybe we expected that this space would reveal something more/something private in relation to what remained in the many rooms we shot in the hotel.
In How Are Things? Roger-Pol Droit takes his assessment of laundry and washing machines several steps further, into what he acknowledges as the realm of the ‘cosmic.’
He riffs on the work of cleaning clothes (and other things), and extrapolates:
The heart of the matter remains cyclical and rotary. For longer than we can think back, washing goes around and around. Impurity, ablution, purity. And eternal return. Like souls, evidently.
The washing machine is thus a thing of the cosmic variety. You stuff dead souls into it. Everything turns around. The water effaces the past, the stain, the memory. Deluge after deluge, it penetrates the most recalcitrant fibres, dissolves the most intimate blemishes, cleans away former lives. From one cycle to the next, the new emerges from the old. p. 141
But things also stay the same too, sometimes in disturbing ways. The stains and the past were still evident at the York, regardless. In the end, I think that was what preoccupied us and compelled us to shoot so many images in the laundry: we found unexpected things, things that revealed more about what we didn’t know about the York and its residents, but that spoke to a commonality of experience that many people don’t want to acknowledge. New and old all at once, and present. So present, despite the closure of the hotel, the dispersion of residents.
I know what struck me deeply about being in that room was the implications of what we found, rather than the things themselves; or maybe it was the incongruity of some of the things we saw in relation to the purely mundane function of the space that brought things into focus for me. To be sure, the place had been messed up and things gone through by the people that broke into the York over the year it was closed. That makes sense – if you live on the street, you need things you can’t often afford, like blankets, or maybe a new shirt; a laundry room would be a logical place to rummage for such things.
But what to make of:
A matchbox car.
A plastic Elmo toy.
These objects point to the cyclic nature of lived experience in a much more immediate way: hints of intimacy, of birth and children, of family in whatever configuration. These aspects of life were part of the daily cycle of the residents of the York Hotel too, however much people outside the hotel and the surrounding community might wish to ignore that reality, that similarity.
And there was more: an anteroom before the laundry room “proper” … What to make of that space?
Part religious shrine, part TV room, part kitchen; decorated with candles and curios and sparkly party ornaments. A liminal space within a liminal place – had my mother seen this, she would have said “neither fish nor fowl” and then shaken her head. I found myself doing the same, for a little while: I think that’s because I didn’t want to fully process what I was seeing, on some level. Things that pointed to the need for faith and escape and comfort and rest from the grittier realities of living in this place.
Poverty is cyclic too; it tends to repeat across generations.
But for all of that, there was hope too, and community, and the resilience of the human spirit. Those strengths are less cyclic than constant, maybe eternal in some way; at least, that’s what I found there.
Work Cited: Droit, Roger-Pol. How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment. Trans. Theo Cuffe. London: Faber & Faber, 2005.