Motel Cucaracha: Jenifer K. Wofford at A.O.V.
With apologies to Franz Kafka, in this show, Jenifer K. Wofford asked, “what if… Gregor Samsa
was a modern Filipina-American Woman?” She returned to Kafka’s figure of the cockroach to explore the classical theme of modern alienation, and revised it to address more specifically contemporary issues of immigration and globalization.
Wofford converted A.O.V.’s storefront gallery into a motel room, complete with brown-striped wallpaper, a run down rug, cigarettes in the ashtray, and an ice bucket. The TV played a video with three different cockroaches trapped in their
motel rooms, melodramatically suffering their isolation to a sentimental soundtrack. In the back gallery, the bulky brown costumes were on display along with suitcases, furniture and other props.
Motel Cucaracha was deeply indebted to the claustrophobic interiors of Kafka’s novels. However, Wofford also joined her image of the cockroach to the white-faced clown Pierrot from La Commediea dell’Arte, which was celebrated at that turn of the Twentieth Century as a figure for the melancholic artist. And, as a motel, the
installation seemed to be situated specifically beside an empty freeway in the
American west. As distinct from Gregor Samsa, Wofford’s cockroaches are not trapped in their familiar, bourgeois homes. They are migrants stuck in motels, displaced and perhaps homeless. The allusion to “Roach Motel” traps suggests something of a lure—perhaps the promise of decent pay—which has landed these characters in a situation from which they can’t escape. And the Spanish of the title suggests that the roaches suffer anti-immigrant sentiment, along with economic disenfranchisement, whereas Kafka suffered anti-Semitism. However, the figure of Pierrot also gives the installation a light, mildly comical air. And Wofford plays with the tropes of melancholy and alienation with self-conscious irony as well as sincere interest.
For the duration of the show, she periodically performed in the storefront as one
of the cockroaches, watching films, eating junk food with guests, and hosting an all-night drawing party, among other scheduled events.