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LA DIARY May 31st - June 26th 2005

Nicola Atkinson.Davidson writes, for the MAPMagazine Issue 3/Autumn 2005, from Los Angeles as she open the final install of her"Black Suitcase from Karachi "


May 30th

Arrived in Los Angeles a few days before Memorial Day.

May 31st

Joined the Santa Monica YMCA and began a new healthy, Californian diet with lots of blueberries. Spent the following five days recovering from jet-lag, relaxing and getting back to my old self. Los Angeles is not a strange place to me. It’s where I have lived a significant and formative part of my life. I went to Junior and High School there. I can point out bushes where I hid to avoid classes. It’s also where I spent my 20s, living only two blocks from Santa Monica Beach. So, like a pigeon I return every year, to make work and to see friends and re-kindle past memories. Alan, my husband, sometimes says that he cannot believe I left here to be in Glasgow. However, the more you stay in any one place, the more you can 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 journey of my NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) fellowship. Los Angeles is, for me, part of my past, possibly my future and, at this moment, my present. It’s a place where, for a price, one can find temporary comfort. Rather like a Motel Room. . . a slice of fleeting fantasy, in which one can rent a part of America. The idea of showing here started in September 2004, when I was in discussion with Cindy Ojeda, a friend, who’s a writer and independent curator. She works at a gallery called Track 16 in Bergamot Station, Santa Monica. She supported me in developing the idea.


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 mud slides and brush fires and the super market workers went on strike. On a personal note, several of my close friends had life changing events and losses.

June 2nd – 6th

It is becoming a real challenge to find a motel room to rent. Over the last few evenings I went to ten, essentially sex, motels to ask to rent a room. Each one rejected me, giving different reasons…. e.g. too much traffic (people coming and going)… it’s only for sleeping … no business allowed. Since I don’t have a car, I try a place around the corner from where I’m staying, the Wilshire Motel. It’s run by a small woman with big hair, who chain smokes, alongside her husband. But without missing a beat, she says no. I’m tempted, through sheer frustration, to lie about my purpose in renting a room but, as most Motels seem to be run by people from the Indian sub-continent, I figure they would be quickly alerted by my signs that mention a black suitcase from Karachi. At this point, I felt it was not going to happen. It seemed strange, after travelling all over the world from Havana from Bosnia, that Los Angeles, my former home, would be the place that stopped me in my tracks.


June 7th – 9th

Spent the following days thinking of new approaches. I started to wonder if it was me. Is it because I’ve lost touch with this place and no longer understand it? Maybe I need help, so I enlist some friends to help to find a place by trading my skills…I design a web front 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 room mate 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.

June 10th

Cindy calls. She’s found a place called the Welcome Inn in Eagle Rock… a place named after a rock shaped like an eagle. It’s 30 miles from Brentwood, where I’m staying. 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 Los Angeles artist, Laurie Steelink.June 11th – 12th I spent the night at Cindy’s since I won’t get the Volvo for a few days yet. She lives with her Jack Russell terrier, Dixie, on the side of Mount Washington. We’re awakened at 8:30 am by an earthquake. 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 & Vine to go to see Crash, a film about communal loneliness in LA. We meet back at 4pm, call Ray and he cannot meet us after all and is having some doubts about the whole idea as he’s worried about people suing him in the event of some accident at the opening, or something. He’ll call us back tomorrow. Both Cindy and I are depressed… She drops me off on Santa Monica Boulevard and N. Edgemont Street. 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, alongside 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.


June 13th

I’m starting to believe it’s not going to happen. In the afternoon, I go to the airport to pick up Alan, who has come on vacation. Ray doesn’t call. I feel like a teenager, waiting for the boy who will never call… but I need to know…so I wait to call on Tuesday, to confirm the bad news.

June 14th

Just like that he says, OK… The room will cost $5.00 per night extra to cover the insurance. I rent the room for 5 nights. The opening is in a week’s time… I go to the local printers to produce a black and gold calling card.


June 23rd

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 8 pm, it’s graduation day and also, the final of the basketball playoff. A steady stream of people come and go, about sixty in all, until about 9.30, then a dozen of us go to Columbo’s, across the street, for a martini and dinner.


June 24th – 25th

l feel like a call girl waiting for business….as people drop by every hour or so.


June 26th( last day of show)

The maid came in to clean the room. She starts to engage me in a conversation, during which she says that she has noticed I am different from the other people who normally occupy the motel’s rooms. She says that most people use them for drug taking and/or casual sex. She states that she thinks that my piece is beautiful and that seeing the work in the setting of 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 by it. This leads me to think about the notion of encountering the unexpected and that one cannot ask for anything more than someone saying that they see the familiar with a different perspective, as a result of viewing one’s work. This is where a black suitcase becomes more than a black suitcase.


Nicola Atkinson. Davidson July 3rd 2005



Black Suitcase from Karachi ( on tour)

Glasgow &

Los Angeles







Nicola Atkinson.Davidson


Laurie Steelink


Cindy Ojeda


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