Orit Raff, Untitled (Shirt),120x100cm, Archivel Pigment Print, 1997
“I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact.” — Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked
Shangri-La—an imaginary earthly paradise, a fictional, mythological utopia in the Himalayas, was first described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon: a happy, isolated place whose inhabitants are virtually immortal. Shangri-La is a Western invention, an Orientalist fantasy.
In my work I embark on a virtual journey into Shangri-La. From the website of a hotel chain named Shangri-La I borrowed PR and advertising images featuring interior spaces and artificial nature intended to attract tourists. I manipulated these images by erasing details such as tourists and waiters, and adding others of my own in their stead in a near-Sisyphean work process striving to generate tension between a luring paradise which abruptly turns into Hell; the fantasy of perfection dissolves. The hotels exist in the real world, but the images used to market them are a-priori processed and manipulated; images that strive to create a dream, to reconstruct a mythology by real means. The boundaries between fact and fiction become blurred; spaces ostensibly symbolizing perfection, tranquility, and idyll nature forthwith become threatening, uncanny, artificial, and hackneyed; the myth is shattered—furnishing me with a fertile ground for exploration.
I intentionally employ readymade, web-based images, rather than photographing the sites myself, since these loci are based on nonexistent mythological sites, much like my own journey. This work corresponds with previous works which explored bodily traces in various spaces—at home, school, etc. Here, the traces are the erasures and additions. Shangri-La is a constant quest for the unobtainable; a fantasy about another, far-removed, different place; a Sisyphean pursuit, symbolizing perfection and utopian ideals that do not exist.