85. Access Card


Fairmont Hotel, Royal Makkah Clock Tower
2010 CE (date of opening of hotel)
1431 AH
Stolen from the front desk of Fairmont Hotel, 2012

What is it about this foyer that defines luxury? It is not one single thing, but the accumulation of many details, each refined, polished, glossed and finished. Candles burn by the fountains, their branded, coded scents blending with those of fresh water calmly stirring the ponds of delightful floating flowers. You have no choice upon entering. You, in your pristine white garments, flicking through brochures on how to live your lives with regal, religious finesse as you place your golden cards on the table in front of the staff at the counter, people you’d rather not have to deal with. You have no choice. For this place is like the carnivorous plant growing in inhospitable lands, with nothing to feed on but meat. Its doors shut the heat out quickly behind you as its intestines suck you in and its riches coat you in a sticky mucilage of man-made ambrosia.

And then I am handed to you. I have seen the insides of many pockets and handbags. They keep me close with every step as they walk around the city and the Hajj. God forbid they should lose me and be stuck with all those others, loitering outside in the dry heat.

It makes sense in some ways for me and my kingdom to be here, for we are access to peace, to luxury and earthly paradise. This is the closest thing to heaven you can possibly imagine, a flawless mirror of how you’d like to think of your soul. For you seek earthly perfection and I show you perfection – well, as perfect as I can make it. This place works like a swan’s legs: behind the scenes, below the surface there are rats and bins, stinks of old food and staff rooms, servants scurrying to meet your every need. Above and in front, they waltz around in a stage set. It’s a tough act to keep up.

And I, a little piece of plastic, magnetically chipped, I’m like magic! I represent the room, the view, the Egyptian cotton sheets and elaborate menus, the abundant access to any food you can imagine. As soon as you insert me neatly into my slot, anything is yours. This is earthly pleasure, yours for a limited time. A space to create memories, find solace and peace, a respite from the throngs, the hustle and bustle down below. Here, you will sleep, recuperate, take your repose. Like the many who came through these doors before, you hang up your hats on these pegs and when you leave, you sometimes take me with you as a reminder of the feeling of solitude and exclusive time and space.

But these trappings are only skin deep. Scratch the surface and you will see the rituals shared here with the many who came before you, just as you share in the rituals of the Hajj. But here it is the rituals of eating, shitting and sleeping. The shower, the bath, the letter-writing, the TV-watching. You are like ghosts passing through, like mirages. Ghosts of Eden, robed in white. So similar are you, one to the other, that sometimes I cannot tell the difference between you. Just as I get mixed up with the cards in your wallet, so do you seem like cards in a deck, their backs facing out. With your delusions of individualism, you do not realise that you share everything, even the flies, when occasionally one manages to find its way in from the hotel’s recesses and settles on your sleeping nose, only to do the same to the next person, and then again to the one after him.

This work transcends the objects. Ultimately, what I’m working with isn’t only the artefacts themselves, but the stories attached to them. For me, each tale is the manifestation of the object, and each object is a tangible materialisation of an underlying narrative. The work finds its equilibrium somewhere between the stories and chronology they’re chaptered into, the objects becoming knots or points along the timeline, woven into stories as part of the language of this artwork. Each story draws out a tale that intends to trigger imagination and memory, mixing fact with fiction, with the ultimate aim of straddling, conflating and confusing fixed notions of history to open up the unofficial histories that shape the character of place and memory.
Ahmed Mater
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