Laundry. The word might make most of us think about that pile of dirty clothes sitting on our floor that needs to be washed, a never-ending chore. For many, that entails just walking to the laundry room or basement and throwing the clothes in the washing machine with some detergent. However, if you’ve ever done laundry at a laundromat, the experience of washing your clothing becomes, well, more of an experience.
This is what originally fascinated Ryan Holmes about laundromats and became the inspiration for his debut body of creative work.
As a kid, Holmes grew up in apartment complexes, and using the laundromat was a twice-a-week ritual. The laundromat was far enough away from where he lived that he would stay for the whole two hours it took to do the laundry.
“I’d see the same people there every week,” remembers Holmes. “I’d just sit and think about stupid stuff and watch.”
Those early days at the self-service laundry led to an interest in all things laundromat-related. (Like, for example, the fact that the word “laundromat” is an eponym of an original trademark of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.) “I really like the way they look and the smell of them. They’re kind of a strange place,” says Holmes. “The sound of the machines is hypnotic.”
Holmes started out as a graphic designer while he was in school studying to become a teacher. He found that more and more of his time was devoted to his design work, and he finally gave up teaching to do design full time. As a designer, he was asked to do a lot of ad work.
“My clients would give me photos that were horrible,” says Holmes. “That’s how I got into photography. I thought maybe I should learn.” Primarily a self-taught photographer, Holmes also does some video work.
“This show is a secret little homage to my creative career,” he says. “I’ve never really done anything like this before.” His first deliberate experiment into the creative art side of things was about four years ago when a he and a friend made a short film. The first scene was shot in a laundromat.
As his interest in laundromats developed, Holmes started to get more into the laundry side of things—the basics of clothes. Many artists have found an interest in clothing—it’s an intimate subject and there is an almost voyeuristic aspect to it. Clothing, even though worn to cover the body, has a very private side to it.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten into the idea that less is more,” says Holmes. “The shapes of basic clothing—a T-shirt, jeans, white underwear—they are kind of iconic.”
His installation, American Laundry, has become a multimedia endeavor. Holmes thought that it might be more interesting if he created an experience out of it, kind of like being at the laundromat.
“I started running with this laundry thing,” says Holmes. “I thought, ‘How can I make this more interesting than shit hanging on the wall?’ I wanted to capture the environment.”
Along with his large-scale photographs—some mounted on metal and hanging from clothing racks, Holmes is including fans with dryer sheets attached to create a smell reminiscent of laundromats. He has also shot and edited some “arty, moody laundry stuff” for the video screens and is incorporating a soundtrack that he made to go with the exhibition.
“I just want to see what happens,” says Holmes, talking about how it is all going to come together.
For a first art show, it is inspired and ambitious. American Laundry promises to offer a new take on the experience of the laundromat, perhaps presenting details that would otherwise be lost in the mundane task of doing laundry.