The Budget Motel is beautiful thing: Lady Liberty’s shady underbelly – manifesting hourly through worn out carpets and broken bed springs – smothering horizons everywhere with the auspices of  “Vacancy.”

The word Motel is only one year older than my grandmother - meaning that some 93 years ago - an architect with no formal training decided to make a lodge where people could rest both their bodies and their cars. The Milestone Mo-tel in Mid-California. A capitalist portmanteau for “motor hotel.” The idea of having guests park outside of their room – dedicated parking – immediately changed how Americans interacted with their own nation. Yes, it was as if Manifest Destiny was back from the dead and millions of Americans could now travel, experience and influence their own country. Open road made rock and roll. And motels made it all possible.


This strange, iconic American institution – the Budget Motel - served as the source inspiration for the DRUNKLUCK MOTEL, our installation at Utopiafest’s 10th Anniversary (2018) out in Burnet, TX. Through the construction and curation of this installation, we learned valuable lessons about ourselves, our community and the countless threads that tie us all together. Yes, we built a temporary Motel in the middle of the woods (an absurdist act) – lost our minds (an absurdist act) - and became better people for it (purpose).





Stevie was the first to go out. I went with him the following trip. Then Andy came along. Sometimes all of us. Sometimes one of us. Others helped us too. The location was incredible - Reveille Peak Ranch - a massive slice of wild Texas Hill Country: with dead live-oak trees suspended in reflective waters - weeping fog like backwards gravity on the cold nights. Chainsaw by day - fire by night - stars every chance that you get.


We knew the plan - to build a motel in the woods - and serve coffee every morning accompanied by acoustic jams - but it can be hard to really know without doing - to really see without having seen. Ideation + Imagination - Rationalization. We had no time to spare.


So we cleared the land - and packed in provisions - raw materials salvaged from capitalism’s very last wrung - the Goodwill Outlet next to my house - trash or art - the feint distinction always on our minds. The days mixed and matched - habits good and habits bad out of the window - and phones - not until next week.


Slowly it came together - the tents went up - the rooms filled out - the furniture trucked out - the rugs unfurled - the pallets transformed - the rocks collected and timber arranged. Shopping on a budget you don’t have: the American Dream.


It’s hard to say the moment it all came together - but by the morning of Halloween - we had definitively transformed the forest into something much more familiar. I thought about Riyku and wabi sabi - the Japanese tea master and the aesthetic belief system he develop in response to the increasing materialism of the time. Rejecting gold for mud - symmetry for ruin - and man for nature - Riyku created a visual, philosophical and moral belief system centered on the appreciation of the journey of all things towards nothingness. Dried flowers, pealing bark, dull farm tools - crude objects past their prime - a rejection of the all-too-familiar material culture that forces every consumable item to be standardized - efficient - and the-best-ever. Why tarnish entropy?


Yes, in our own way - we had rejected the present for a beautiful swathe of American decay - the American Budget Motel - America’s wabi sabi. We had constructed a temple of mediocrity and placed it so far out of context that it took on the realm of a sacred space. A return to privacy from the world.


While I can’t recall the moment when forest became motel - the proverbial tipping point – I can remember the moment the motel came ALIVE - transformed from a crazy idea in our heads to a shared experience. With a retro, flashing sign placed on the campground’s main artery, we soon became a local landmark in the otherwise autonomous campground. By Thursday – our eavesdrops and hearsays informed us that we had entered the campground vernacular. We knew it was time for us to launch the Motel into the world like a fire-lit Chinese Lantern.


Sure, I have seen a lot of things - but this was my first time at Utopiafest. In working on the Motel - we had a front-row seat in the theater of festival production. And the more we got involved with helping the festival organizers - the more we realized the massive parallels between our own metaphorical escapade and the larger ambitions of the festival as a whole.

Shane Cooley - Utopiafest 2018
Pierson Saxon - Utopiafest 2018

If we were creating a slice of analog, experiential privacy - Utopiafest was baking the whole pie.


Adventure and rebellion are older than recorded history. Maybe hotels are too – but I’m only 28 – and all I know is that things have grown rigid – the freewheeling days of F. Scott reduced to a litany of Misdemeanors – and the magic of life codified - or worse yet - replaced by flavor-of-the-week digital escapism. I’m sure everyone feels it: FREEDOM GROWING AND SHRINKING AT THE SAME TIME – ALL THE TIME.  Freer than our forefathers – but with fewer places to hide. The destruction of intimacy is so 21st century. Living in a now – bare and exposed – unwise and unsteady – unsure if ENLIGHTENMENT and INTERNET can ever coexist. Where do you go to feel the past? And where do you go to hide? In strange arc of modernity - things have changed so fast. And somehow - in the inconclusive aftermath - MOTELS have come to represent one of the last vestiges of 20th century privacy.