Los Angeles is not a strange place—it’s where I have lived a significant part of my life. I went to school there. So, like a pigeon I return every year, to work, see friends and rekindle past memories. Alan, my husband, sometimes says he cannot believe I left to be in Glasgow. However, the more you stay in any one place, the more you understand wanting to leave it. This brings me to the idea of the ‘Black Suitcase from Karachi’. It seems like a perfect piece to end the physical and mental three year journey of my NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) fellowship. Los Angeles is part of my past, possibly my future and, at this moment, my present. It’s a place where, for a price, you can find temporary comfort. Rather like a motel room—a slice of fleeting fantasy in which you can rent a part of America. Since this is public art, I should put it into context in terms of time and place. During my time here, Michael Jackson was found not guilty. There have been at least four earthquakes. People have lost their homes due to mudslides and bush fires and the supermarket workers went on strike.2–6 June
It is becoming a real challenge to find a motel room to rent for my exhibition. Over the last few evenings I went to ten, essentially sex, motels. Each one rejected me: too much traffic (people coming and going), it’s only for sleeping, no business allowed. I try a place around the corner, the Wilshire Motel. It’s run by a small woman with big hair who chain-smokes alongside her husband. Without missing a beat, she says no. It seems strange, after travelling and exhibiting round the world from Havana to Bosnia, that LA, my former home, is the place that has stopped me in my tracks.7–9 June
Maybe I need help, so I enlist some friends to help to find a place by trading my skills. I design a web page and offer haircuts. In return for one haircut, I receive a loan of a white Volvo for three weeks from Nancy, my friend’s roommate who’s leaving town to work on a low-budget feature in Barbados. Still no luck with locating a room, but having wheels will widen my options.10 June
My friend Cindy Ojeda calls. She’s found a place called the Welcome Inn in Eagle Rock. Ray, the owner, wants to meet us on Sunday. Cindy and I discuss details and decide to include an additional piece in the bathroom by LA artist, Laurie Steelink. 11–12 June
We call Ray, but he can’t meet us until the afternoon. Cindy is going to see a play, so she drops me off on Sunset and Vine to go see Crash, a film about communal loneliness in LA. We call Ray. He’s having some doubts about the whole idea. Cindy and I are depressed. She drops me off. As she pulls away, a passing car clips and kills a pigeon. It lies on the road twitching its last. I take the long bus ride home. It costs $1.25 for 30 miles. Here I am on the bus, with the poor and the elderly of LA. In this city, the SUV rules the road and no one will trust you unless you are fully insured.13 June
In the afternoon, I go to the airport to pick up Alan. Ray doesn’t call.14 June
But the next day, just like that, he says, OK. The room will cost $5 per night extra to cover the insurance. I rent the room for five nights. The opening is in a week’s time. I go to the local printers to produce a black and gold calling card.23 June
The private view starts at 7pm and I rent the adjacent room to serve drinks and allow people to hang around and chat. People start to show up right away, which is comforting, as this place is relatively remote. Rush hour traffic doesn’t calm down until around 8pm, it’s graduation day and also, the final of the basketball playoff. About 60 people come and go until about 9.30pm and then a dozen of us go to Columbo’s for a Martini and dinner.
l feel like a call girl waiting for business as people drop by every hour or so.26 June (last day of show)
The maid cleans the room. She says she has noticed I am different from other motel people. She says most use the rooms for taking drugs and/or casual sex. She thinks that my piece is beautiful and that seeing the work in the motel room has opened her mind to the idea of other possibilities in her life. She doesn’t always want to be a cleaner and is only doing so to support herself and her child. She is inspired. I think of the notion of encountering the unexpected. You can’t ask for more than changing someone’s perspective with your work. A black suitcase becomes more than a black suitcase.