Driving west along Sunset Boulevard — it’s something most Angelenos have experienced at some point in their lives. For locals, iconic images like the Hollywood sign off in the distance or a swaying palm tree set against a blue sky become commonplace, part of the landscape of a daily commute.
But change one thing about this Los Angeles-specific backdrop, and it’s enough to get people to pull over to the side of the road and pause their everyday routines. People like Ricardo Dawkins.
“Why is this guy painting over trees? It’s white paint. Did someone screw up? I thought it was an act of vandalism at first,” Dawkins says.
But what Dawkins is experiencing isn’t vandalism — it’s art.
“A city is always changing, and mostly we don’t see the changes. In terms of perception, we are always looking for some sort of sameness or symmetry,” says French artist Vincent Lamouroux, the man responsible for the site-specific art installation he calls “Projection.” Vincent and his team have transformed the dilapidated Sunset Pacific Motel in Silver Lake by covering the entire structure — and some of the adjacent palm trees — in a stark white lime wash.
“It’s white, but to me it’s also blank,” says Lamouroux. “This idea of the white is to bring of course light to it, but to have a white canvas. A screen to project any type of desire onto the surfaces.”
The defunct Sunset Pacific, or "Bates Motel" as it’s also known, got its nickname from its location at the intersection of Bates and Sunset. "Bates Motel" conjures the eeriness of the fictional motel of the same name in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” And with the motel’s sordid past as a hub for crime in L.A., the name fits.
Lamouroux says he's had a decade-long fascination with the place.
“The fact that it has been abandoned for maybe more than 20 years, with a loss of... affection for it,” he says. “I think the idea was to bring something completely new for the building. It was a motel, and especially a motel has a lot of different stories, and I think this one had a lot.”
Leslie Robinson is a member of Lamouroux’s team that was tasked with applying gallon after gallon of ecologically-safe lime wash to every inch of the abandoned motel and the palm trees that tower above it.
“It’s been bizarre,” Robinson says, who admits he was a little confused when he first got the job.
“Being up in the boom lift was the scariest part, because the palm trees move, they were swaying back and forth. And also the boom lift was swaying back and forth. That and the wind... It was tricky,” Robinson says.
Nicolas Libert and his L.A.-based arts organization Please Do Not Enter are the organizers behind Lamouroux’s “Projection.”
“Vincent often says it’s a kind of dreaming as being awake. It’s so unusual to see this completely white scenery, these white trees, that you can’t help stopping and trying to figure out what’s happening,” says Libert.
Libert explains part of the concept for the piece.
“With this site-specific installation, it’s to be able to bring art to people that aren’t that used to going to museums, going to galleries," he says. "Art comes and meets them out on the street."
It’s not clear yet what will happen to the Sunset Pacific Motel after Libert and Lamouroux are finished with it.
It could be restored and reopened in all of its vintage 1960s glory, another hip spot in the gentrified Silver Lake neighborhood where it sits. Or maybe the developers who own the property will tear the the structure down and put up condos.
Libert says the mystery surrounding the motel is all part of the experience.
“The next story is not written yet,” he says. “We have expectations. We have predictions. What will happen next after the exhibition, we don’t know that. But that’s probably part of the success of the whole installation.”
But, for the next couple of weeks at least, passersby will be able to document the ghostly white motel — stopping to snap pictures, maybe even a selfie out front. Evidence that they took part in a dream, the altered reality on Sunset Boulevard.
"Projection" opened on Sunday, April 26 and will be on view through May 10, 2015.