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Showtel

An interview with the curator who annually transforms Hotel Biba into an art installation

by Julie Wolfson in Culture on 25 March 2010

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For the past eight years ArtSite Projects curator Kara Walker-Tome has been transforming a section of West Palm Beach, FL's Hotel Biba into an annual art event. Aptly named, Showtel turns hotel rooms into conceptual installations by challenging artists fill the spaces with everything from sculpture and performance art, without using the use of nails or adhesives. We recently had the chance to speak with Walker-Tome, who shed light on this clever exhibition.

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How did you originally come up with the idea for this kind of site-specific show?

When I moved to Florida after having lived in Los Angeles and New York, I was involved in the local art scenes of these metropolitan cities and I could not find an alternative art scene to speak of in Palm Beach County. I had been impressed and inspired many times in the past by installation shows in unique settings in LA and NY and I recognized that my new area was wide open for making a mark with an alternative art happening. So, I decided to put together a one-night show for local emerging cutting-edge artists in a hotel. Lucky for me the first one I approached said yes. That was eight years ago. So Showtel started as a small happening with a handful of artists and maybe a couple hundred people attended. Last year's seventh annual show featured twenty-five artists and attracted 2,000 people in one night.

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Why a hotel? How does that environment influence the artists?

I think the strict rules in place for installing Showtel installations in a working hotel accounts for incredible ingenuity. Essentially they have to put up and then take down their work as if they had never been in the room in the first place. The amazing thing is that they manage to come up with clever solutions and create visually intense environments whereby the whole room is engaged.

How do you know that the idea will work in the show?

Curating from ideas is an acquired skill. I am choosing work that has not been created yet so I have to be able to visualize their concept and plan. I believe that ability comes from my initial training as an artist myself. I received an MA in fine arts from CalArts and then also have spent years reading hundreds of proposals, working closely with artists in the development and creation of their work, and finally—a bit of intuition!

Who are some of the artists participating this year? What will they be creating?

I am quite excited this year to be working with artists from all over the state of Florida and even one coming from out of state. Showtel has traditionally attracted artists living close to Palm Beach County, but now artists from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Gainesville are applying and getting accepted into the show. I hope it continues to expand nationally.

I can give you a handful of teasers about the pieces planned for this year. There will be a mythical forest, a wormhole grow room, a lunar/meteor space, a scene from a world populated only by sloths and unicorns and five of the installations will involve performance. It is going to be a very intense and dynamic show!

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This year Shotel runs from 8-10 April. Read more about some of Walker-Tome's favorite Showtel installations she's seen over the past eight years after the jump. (Pictured above in order of appearance.)

Photos by Jacek Gancarz

Picture 1: Installation by Halie Ezratty, Showtel 2008

The overtly handmade quality of these soft sculpture monsters, existing in this faux natural world made for a great aesthetic that had humor in it too. One of the monsters actually was a costume for a person who was walking around the room interacting with people. The concept was about corporations turning into huge monsters that are taking over the environment, so it made a statement to think about as well.

Picture 2: Installation by Christian Diaz, Showtel 2005

This was such an effective piece both visually and psychologically and the artist was the first to make false walls (out of fabric) so he could create the uniform grid of string which was ingenious.

Picture 3: Installation by Lauren Jacobson and Cristina Sierra, Showtel 2006

This installation was like stepping into a surreal dream and it smelled like bubble gum too! The graphics on the walls and floor reference the packaging of "Hubba Bubba" gum and the artists found a brand of gum that the pieces looked like tiny colorful square sculptures. There was a huge pile of gum on the bed that dwindled throughout the night as people were allowed to take and chew one! The installation truly engaged all of one's senses.

Picture 4: Installation by Bradley Lezo and Denise Moody-Tackley, Showtel 2008

This is an actual bedroom sunken in the pool, complete with a tray of food on the bed, an area rug, lights that worked and even a TV that appeared to be on. It was an amazing feat and one of the most memorable pieces in the history of Showtel.

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