As you step through a pale blue door in the heart of Dalston you cross a threshold into a space that is all at once a home, a stage, a restaurant, a labour of love and a work of art. This winter, once again, the home of artist Tony Hornecker opens its door to welcome guests for a Christmas panto unlike any other. Coined by its creator a ‘gypsy vagabond speakeasy’, The Pale Blue Door is a cabaret experience extraordinaire that continues to delight guests nearly 10 years on from its inception.
The installation owes its genesis in 2009 to the perfect storm of an empty wallet, overdue rent and no prospect of work on the horizon in the midst of a recession. What Tony created was, and still is, a space where ‘you could hide away from the world in another reality, smoke illegally and have a new experience that could touch a lot of senses.’ Over the course of the evening, guests enjoy a three-course dinner with one hell of an amuse bouche – cabaret stalwart A Man to Pet leads the cast in this year’s raucous production.
This home is a beguiling example of the imagination brought into the real. Filled with an amassing of curios and trinkets, or as Tony puts it – ‘dead grannies’ belongings’, it is a pleasure to behold. When Tony first moved into the former warehouse – the space was a shell. Interestingly, he muses that initially he wanted to transform the space into a minimalist New York-style apartment. Surveying the property now, it is apparent that things couldn’t have gone more wrong for the vision, thank God.
The project has not been without its trials and tribulations, of course. A former neighbour once plastered the building with black crosses and called the environmental agency, hoping to shut down the frivolity once and for all. Said neighbour now resides in prison thanks to a penchant for stalking and the health inspector that came knocking up was so enamoured by the space that he stayed for hours. ‘Of all the health inspectors in all the land’ chuckles Tony as we chat and he thanks the ‘little angel on my shoulder’ for the coup de grace.
The Pale Blue Door has taken itself around the world, and the stories of these jaunts sound stranger than fiction as the artist reminisces. The first stamp on the door’s passport was a Chilean one, when Tony brought the installation to Santiago to fund a trip there with his best friend. The installation then went to Buenos Aires, which the artist refers to as “just over the road”, as casually as if nipping out to pick up a pint of milk. But, of course, it was in Argentina that once again Tony’s stars were aligned in his favour. A trip to an internet café and a couple of beers later Tony had the green light to take over an abandoned mansion.
Glastonbury festival also has Tony to thank for the two-story bordello (complete with working prostitutes) that was erected in 2010. A jolly affair, guests would clap and woop as ‘patrons’ walked down the stairs from the love hotel’s makeshift bedrooms. We laugh at the sheer audacity of the project and remark that the £20 commission Tony took made him, well, a bit of a pimp.
It is sad to hear that The Pale Blue Door won’t be around forever, at least in its current form. Tony’s home is billed to be knocked down and replaced with new and shiny flats someday. But, when searching for silver linings, perhaps there really are so many times the artist can hear “Oh my god there’s a toothbrush in the bathroom – can you believe it, a toothbrush!”
Images: Manuel Varquez