The ttttssshhhhhh of a smoke machine breaks the silence as a red spotlight flashes to life, illuminating markers of social distancing on a dance floor polished by the rubbing of the feet. Sound system shifts into high gear with an anthem from a techno star Dave clarke. But the DJ booth is empty, and the only ravers here are those frozen in time, trapped behind glass like photo exhibitions.
This is Echo through eternity, the ephemeral museum exhibition currently presented in Fuse, a place in the trendy Marolles district in Brussels serving its community for 100 years, first as a cinema then as a Latin nightclub before becoming one of the best techno in Belgium clubs. The exhibition features stylish posters, wacky flyers (rubber gloves, fake driving licenses) and colorful photos from the club’s historic past. Most of the material comes from its own archives, but there are also personal items, submitted by the club’s dedicated community after an open social media appeal. Beginning with its LGBTQ roots, the exhibit winds through the main dance floor, with a stop at the DJ booth, and ends with a three-minute club simulation upstairs.
Organized by its own staff, far too young to remember the original club that opened in 1994, Echoing Through Eternity is not the only example of a European club trying alternative routes through the pandemic, nor the only recent exhibition devoted to club culture. British institutions such as the Barbican, the Design Museum and the Saatchi Gallery have all reinvented the dance floors in their understated gallery spaces – a trend that continues with the V&A Dundee exhibition. Night fever: designing the club culture in May – and nightclubs created gallery spaces from their dance floors. While the latter has allowed clubs to generate income during a period of enforced closure, the former has provided a space to celebrate and question the cultural value of nightlife.
Last September, after six long months of silence, Berghain in Berlin – considered by many to be the world’s most important nightclub – reopened as a gallery with an exhibition showcasing 115 ambitious works by artists based in the city. . Berghain’s main dance floor has been transposed to Lagos’ red light district by Nigerian sound and installation artist Emeka Ogboh; his play, Ayilara, was made from field recordings captured by the artist while living in Nigeria’s largest city. As you walked up the stairs to the dance floor, you could also hear the robotic whistle of an automated acoustic piano tapping one lone note at a time from the Klo Bar washroom. It was the sound of Piano chord-1, a generative composition by one of Berghain’s resident DJs, Sam Barker.
Berghain has hosted various exhibitions since its opening in 2004; his early works presented exclusively by his own staff, including the infamous doorman and photographer Sven Marquardt. Club owners Norbert Thormann and Michael Teufele have commissioned and exhibited artwork in the venue from the start, from intimate photography by Wolfgang Tillmans, which typically looms above the Panorama Bar, to the epic mural by Piotr Nathan who once occupied the entrance hall. Crafted from 171 square aluminum panels, the mural, titled Rituals of Disappearance, was carefully dismantled in 2017 and sold piece by piece to make way for the club’s brand new dance floor, Säule. Halle am Berghain, another space in the concrete labyrinth of Berlin’s former power station, has been the site of a series of immersive audiovisual experiences in recent years; this summer it will feature a installation by a Danish ecological artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen.
Such interventions may provide relief from the current stasis imposed by the pandemic – but it does not address the social, political, psychological and physiological loss of the dance floor. PC driver, a participatory play by Rotterdam social choreographer Connor Schumacher, is one such attempt.
For Schumacher, 33, the delirium consists in “practicing expansive progressive values” and in learning to be (better) human together. These views were refined through participation in Enabling dance, a European research project on interpersonal and learning skills developed through regular dance practice. “If experience, memory, ideas and values are stored inside the body,” says Schumacher, referring to the theory of embodied cognition, which also informs his work, “then inside rave space, you shake all your shit.
Carefully crafted with the social restrictions in place in the Netherlands at the time, Pilot PC simulated rave – safely – in the theater space last year. Features motivating ‘lyrical videos’ and a combination of smoke, lights and reflective surfaces to mimic the club environment, plus a striking playlist that replicates the highs and lows of a good ensemble – and warm-ups and the downs of proper aerobic training – Pilot PC offered one of the few opportunities to dance socially in the Netherlands in 2020. The project was gaining momentum when theaters also had to close as part of the phase of tightest lockdown in the country to date.
Pilot PC evolved from Schumacher’s Zoom Raves, open-to-anyone, rave-inspired dance sessions with internet access, which once again replaced Schumacher’s physical community dance practice. “It’s like I have a relationship with rave, and now I have to be in a long-distance relationship,” he says. “I’m not ready to break up just because I can’t be there physically.”
In addition to offering a glimpse into the full multisensory power of rave, Pilot PC also touched on some of the social policies of clubbing via an opening ‘TED-talk’, where attendees stood ready to be mindful of their own bodies. , but also to share the space with others. For Schumacher, the way we behave in the club space prepares us for the way we behave outside the club space.
Exhibits like Echoing Through Eternity and plays like Pilot PC can help preserve while forging deeper relationships with club culture; they stimulate thinking, which could be used to navigate the current stasis and allow more conscious club practices to emerge after the pandemic. Even before Covid, the club’s culture was plagued by issues of soaring DJ fees and sexual harassment to industry disproportionate carbon footprint and the large-scale room loss. Reviewing the scene from a critical distance, through an exhibition, may be what saves it for future generations.
This process has also occurred in traditional museum spaces. Take the recent electronic exhibit at the Design Museum in London. Originally conceived, pre-pandemic, for the Philharmonie de Paris, in the context of the current club crisis, the exhibition has become even more radical and vital. “We did not want to create an exhibition of memories”, explains its curator Jean-Yves Leloup. “The idea was to create a sort of giant installation, which doesn’t really mimic the club or the rave scene, but reflects the aesthetic of the immersive feel one can have at a party.”
The electronics have achieved this thanks to the very architecture of the exhibition, composed of metal and wooden structures reminiscent of the staging of a festival, created by spatial design specialists 1024 Architecture. There was also a playlist of 127 tracks that accompanied the exhibit, which you could listen to on headphones while walking through the museum. About five hours of dance music, ranging from disco to contemporary bass, was compiled into 11 thematic mixes by French DJ and producer Laurent Garnier.
“I still remember my rave and club years as a sort of immersive aesthetic feeling, not just a social gathering,” recalls Leloup, who was involved in the French rave scene early on as a DJ and radio journalist. influential. He also organized one of the first major exhibitions on rave culture, Global Tekno, held at the American Center in Paris in 1995. With several exhibitions, articles, books and years of dancefloor encounters behind him, Leloup is the ideal spokesperson for reinventing club culture through the prism of the art world.
Inventive immersive tricks aside, the obvious criticism of putting club culture in a museum is that they can never deliver experiences close to the inherently emotional and deliciously unpredictable act of finding yourself and getting lost on the track. of dance. “Where’s the art? Where’s the performance? Where is the vitality? The whole show feels like a nightclub when the smoke has cleared, the dancers have returned home and the sick are being cleaned up, ”Time Out art critic Eddy Frankel wrote of of the Barbican 2019 Into the Night exhibition, which recreated nightclubs from visual art.
Others might argue that raves, often a roving and messy business, clash with the very concept of an institution of bricks and mortar, especially when considering the politics of such institutions. Sweet Harmony, an exhibition of classic rave material, took place at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2019 – as the gallery founder created publicity campaigns for Thatcher’s Conservative government, who then severely clamped down on the scene in the end of the 80s, was an irony that has not been lost. some bitter participants.
During the original electronic exhibition in Paris, Leloup remembers former ravers in their forties, fifties and sixties who traveled with their children or grandchildren, eager to share their past experiences with them. There were also young people aged 20 to 30 accompanying parents in a similar gesture of empathy. It is this ability to communicate across generations that is perhaps the best argument for a museum club culture. But the ravers should not be trapped forever behind the frame, like those in the Fuse exhibit: any perspective gained should be implemented on sustainable funding, diversification and enrichment of the club’s culture. We still need a place where we can shake off all our shit.