Surprise Mermaids Have Appeared in One L.A. Laundromat

Artist Olivia Erlanger’s sculptures fracture everyday reality

Most people walk into a laundromat thinking they’re going to do a routine chore. But what if laundry day became an opportunity to encounter something thought-provoking or surprising? Thanks to artist Olivia Erlanger’s installation at the Laundry Zone in Arlington Heights, customers are being confronted with life-size mermaid tails emerging from certain machines.


“I hope that the mundanity of the everyday can be fractured for a moment,” Erlanger says of the project.

Photograph by Ilia Ovechkin

The show was organized by gallery and arts platform Mother Culture, which is based a few blocks from the laundromat. Erlanger had mentioned to Mother Culture founders Milo Conroy and Jared Madere that she was interested in working on a project around mermaid tails, building off a sculpture of large-scale forked snake tongues which she showed at Mathew gallery in New York in 2016.

It was Conroy and Madere who suggested the installation might find a home in the laundromat rather than a traditional gallery space. They pitched her on the idea in spring of this year, after stopping in to do their own laundry.

“My practice is extending into creating environments, so it felt like a natural experimentation to inhabit a public space,” Erlanger says.

Customers have been coming into the laundromat, not knowing to expect the art pieces, and reacting with curiosity, surprise, and delight, the artist reports–but mermaids inspire her for reasons that go beyond the merely whimsical.

“I’m interested in mermaids as a kind of pre-gender or genderless archetype, a representation of a chimeric existence that I feel we each take on as different environmental pressures effect a transformation of sorts,” she says. “When they are presented as female, mermaids bring up many questions of mobility, not only in a physical sense, but also ones around agency. Ariel, for example, gave up her voice to walk on land.”

Ida by Olivia Erlanger is currently on display at Laundry Zone, 1600 6th Ave., Arlington Heights.

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