Thank you for smoking.

Can I get a light?
I remember a day when you could smoke freely in public without being shunned, ridiculed, and fined. In fact, you could smoke in theatres and restaurants, on airplanes, at school, work, and even in hospitals. Now gone, all gone, is the luxury of lighting up in a communal space.

So when did the demise of smoking culture in Canada occur? Can we chronicle the downward spiral with the public appearance of the warning labels that went from chastising reminders to noxious images? The black and white cautionary statements gave way to grotesquely graphic images of dogs’ teeth and disappointed children. Taxes skyrocketed to new heights vowing to eradicate the vice from Canadian diets, especially in the younger population. The most recent lobby to eradicate public cigarette consumption was put forward by the Toronto Transit Commission to prohibit smoking within nine meters of bus and streetcar stops.

As the cartons became more pernicious so did the attitudes towards smokers. No longer the romantic James Dean’s of society, the smoker is painted as an ugly, self-absorbed people. Not to underestimate or trivialize the effects of second-hand (or the newly coined third-hand) smoke on by standers and children, but the social "denormalization" strategy exercises humiliation tactics lacking mutual respect. The slow death of smoking leaves people huddled in corners rejected from the rest of the polite, pious public.

This is how our journey and (mis)adventure in Motel begins with Gintas Tirilis and Alison S. M. Kobayashi, looking for a light. Pushed to the darkened areas, the outlawed smokers went looking for refuge from the cold Canadian winds in search of a warm sheltered place to have a smoke. Exploring the Mississauga, Etobicoke suburbs for such a place led the pair to discover a strip of motels along Lakeshore Blvd, just on the edge of Toronto, abandoned. The location seems the perfect setting for any escapade, as motels proliferate American horror stories and often conjure up seductive images of anonymous sexual encounters, unsavory dealings and downtrodden souls.

Further exploration into these dilapidated structures became a nightly routine as they dared to gain greater access to the suites, removing the discarded vestiges. Taking that cigarette break allowed them to slow down and critically contemplate their surroundings. This time and clarity on the first inhale permitted both to look around their given space and see the potential in the grungy objects thrown around the murky rooms.

Inhale. Awaiting demolition the objects left in the rooms and offices held an eerie quality of a time capsule. Exhale. The unkempt rooms had already become mini museums holding valuable archives of the establishment’s prosperous past. Inhale. Liberating the items and placing in a gallery context would give reverence to the humble objects and to the years of history that were imbedded on their very surfaces. Exhale

Motel is a collection archiving the salvaged objects through display, photographs, dioramas, multiples, and narrative video installation based on their contravention experiences. Tirilis and Kobayashi keep an ongoing record, through documentation and scavenged relics, of their navigation through these once flourishing temporary habitats. The exhibition has been arranged as part collection and part exploratory fun house, recreating the fear and intrigue the two experienced that fateful evening.

So there is an advantage of taking the time to smell the flowers and light a cigarette.
Can I get an amen?

-Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot

Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot is an artist/curator and the Assistant Curator at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU). Previously she held the positions as outreach programmer for the Blackwood Gallery and the Art Gallery of Mississauga and as professional development and public programmes coordinator at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries. Her independent curatorial practice focuses on event based interventions and infiltrations such as Massive Party, PowerBall, AIDSBeat and Toronto Alternative Fashion Week. She is the former undefeated Pillow Fight Champion of the World and a reformed smoker.