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KUNST.EE SPRING ISSUE STILL ON SALE: "The fact that the artist is a beggar who essentially pays the state for art – for the opportunity to make art – was articulated very clearly in Estonia in the noughties by female artists in particular." – Eha Komissarov: "The noughties are a very difficult theme to brand.(KUNST.EE 2/2021)

 

Rave mythologies and ecologies (Part II)

Stefan Peetri (3/2021)

Stefan Peetri analyses the international exhibition "Up All Night. Looking Closely at Rave Culture" (Part I in the previous issue of KUNST.EE).



26. III–17. X 2021
Kumu Art Museum, 5th floor
Artists: Jeremy Deller, Rineke Dijkstra, Bogomir Doringer, Kiwa, Sandra Kosorotova, Mark Leckey, Anna-Lena Krause, Sven Marquardt, Tarvo Hanno Varres, Tobias Zielony, The Otolith Group, Anne de Vries, Gillian Wearing
Curator: Kati Ilves
Co-curator: Vanina Saracino


The body-based ecology of rave

The idea of rebirth or reincarnation is central to many religions. The Latin etymology of the word "incarnate" is to make "into flesh" (in-caro), to embody. In rave culture, "rebirth" is a physical experience, much like sport, in tune with cultural theorist Benjamin Noys' observation that rave culture is characteristic of a post-industrial society that seeks to exploit free time more intensively than industrial machinery once used to exploit the bodies of factory workers.1

The dissolution and rebirth of the ego through physical experience is mediated by Bogomir Doringer's "I Dance Alone" (2015–2017). The two-channel video installation focuses on loneliness in the shared rave experience, highlighting its collective loneliness and individual spirituality. One of the channels of the installation shows the collective ocean of people at a rave and the semiotics between the bodies, patterns of ecstasy and apathy alternating like ebb and flow – it shows the collective body of the rave contracting and expanding like the tide. The other channel focuses on the individual rave-goer as the subject of collective loneliness who has drowned in this ocean of bodies. Cultural theorist Antonio Melechi has described rave as "collective disappearance", which is characterised by psychological tourism – a paradoxical feeling of an all-encompassing sense of community and the psychedelic expansion of the inner self beyond the organic body.2 This is also highlighted by the bipolar quality of the work – shots of mass hugs side by side with individual dancers – which reflects the specific effect of MDMA as a psychedelic stimulant that enhances human interaction while also expanding consciousness through shifts in perception, keeping each person on their individual journey.

Coming across as a kind of polar opposite of Doringer's work "I Dance Alone" is Rineke Dijkstra's work "The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL" (1996–1997). Dijkstra is a renowned Dutch artist known for her portraits. In Doringer's installation, the cameras gave a bird's eye view of the anonymous collection of bodies at a rave. Dijkstra shows us ravers in club environments, but the installation, which imitates a photographic studio, uses a classic white background to conceal any site-specific features, thereby highlighting the subjects in the style of classic portraiture. The static and improvised shots of ravers torn out of context clash with the affective e(cstacy)-nergy that is built up in their bodily experience, looking for release. The viewer is faced with a raver out of context, in a discomfort zone. We keep seeing oblivious bodies oscillating and moving to rave music playing in the background.

 

 

Anne de Vries
Oblivion
2016/2018
Installation (hardstyle event diorama in a
scale of 1:87)
Exhibition view at Kumu Art Museum
Photographer
Stanislav Stepashko
Courtesy of the artist

 

 


Rave as a ghost and mythology

Mark Leckey's video "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore" (1999) explores rave from a consciously nostalgic position by editing home videos. His video montage represents a journey through a collection of fashion codes and dance techniques handed down by previous generations. And all this is done in a ghostly psychedelic form, giving expression to rave as the sense of a lost future. "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore" is the artist's heartfelt tribute to British working-class pop culture, which in the 1970s promoted Fiorucci clothing as the first club culture brand and also managed to involve other big names, such as Andy Warhol and later Madonna, in its branding efforts.

The digital age has been accompanied by nostalgia for analogue electronics, such as collecting vinyl records and cassettes, which is similar to the longing for physical human contact in the Covid era. Leckey's digital montage showing the evolutionary development of rave culture similarly represents a longing for physical contact, symbolised by slang terms such as "old school", "analogue" and the Fiorucci brand. At the same time, the slightly melancholy air of the work betrays the notion that the original meaning of rave has been lost and only the proliferation of secondary myths remains.

Continuing in this eerie spirit is a ghostological space by Kiwa, created especially for this exhibition. While dedicated to rave, Kiwa's spatial installation "Rhythm Is Rhythm" (2021) neither makes a sound nor speaks; instead, it remains silent as an empty signifier of experience, a sign of our time. Kiwa acts as a conceptual (sound) technician and deconstructs the meaning of rave from today's perspective. As Covid-era dance floors demonstrate, Kiwa has created a ready-made constellation for a gap. A lonely flashing strobe light with a DJ stand and two turntables is a familiar ghostly image. Recently, virtual raves have been organised on various online platforms and social media channels, thus, paradoxically, tying people to screens. Kiwa's installation, on the other hand, is purged of people and humanity; it is a liminal space where various ghosts and space-times can appear, as if in some David Lynch film where the main character meets his demonic doppelganger.

Another work commissioned specifically for the exhibition is by Sandra Kosorotova, a young artist from the largely Russian Lasnamäe suburb of Tallinn. The work politicises the cultural memory of Estonian Russians from a part of the city filled with different messages, making it a venerable "relic" of a dormitory suburb. Kosorotova's work is a mental and spiritual mapping of Lasnamäe, its nightlife and dormitory life and thirst for spirituality, or to quote the artist: "The Russians here are cut off from their culture, their spirituality!" Kosorotova presents rave culture as a collective and mythical relic and memory object for Estonian Russians. The delicate materiality of a piece of linen hovering alone in a corner symbolises the ease with which the question of spirituality in today's society, especially for minorities, is thrown in the corner like an old rag.

In their work "Hydra Decapita" (2010), the Otolith Group explores the Afrofuturist mythology generated by the electronic music duo Drexciya. The name of this duo derives from a mythical underwater human race descended from thousands of pregnant female slaves from Africa thrown overboard when crossing the Atlantic. Fetuses, as we know, develop an innate ability to swim while in the womb. Could it be that "white man's" mistake when transporting slaves led to an evolutionary anomaly, a secret underwater Black Atlantis?

One of The Otolith Group's leading members, Kodwo Eshun, has described Drexciya's music as liquid dystopia. The work "Hydra Decapita" supposedly takes the mythological origins of Drexciya as its starting point to study dystopian tendencies in modern capitalism, globalisation, and climate change, but visually fluctuating among the passivity and abstraction of all these ocean waves and lagoon caves, my mind wandered, and the vibrating bass sounds created as a backdrop filling the space came to the fore. The Otolith Group introduces Drexciya as an unidentified Black Atlantis technology. The vibrating bass sounds engulf exhibition visitors like the water pressure surrounding a submerged submarine.

The boundaries distinguishing science fantasy and reality, the fictional and the real, music and vibration were sonic and optical illusions. Underwater worlds are womb-like worlds. Rave utopia, rave as a non-place or a not-of-this-world-place, is about the expansion of other spatial, physical, and temporal configurations in a human retroactive technogenesis towards a state of embryological balance and connection.

At the same time, as the exhibition curated by Kati Ilves shows, something more than a move towards pre-oedipal, pre-infant oceanic unity is important in rave culture. Despite its (over-)appreciation of the subcultural dimension of rave, the exhibition offers a comprehensive historical insight into rave culture and an updated account of the potential for memory and body politics of the rave experience. Ilves emphasises the paradoxical iconic and mythical status of rave culture, how its mechanical opposition to the way human cultures orientate towards memory and significance attracts a variety of listeners and viewers, like an unidentified underwater world or a myth of the future. Rave is like the mythical Drexciya, "a fictional world with unpredictable consequences".3

It is worth remembering that the emergence of rave culture was an unprecedented future shock in the context of its time and in the history of pop culture, being primitive in its repetitive beat, thirst for ecstasy and techno-animism. On the other hand, it was a subculture that was not at all oriented to remembering, thus raising the question if we even understand what rave means or will it remain a secret, an alchemical code.


See Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism. Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2014.

Vt Antonio Melechi, The Ecstasy of Disappearance. – Rave Off: Politics and Deviance in Contemporary Youth Culture. Ed. Steve Redhead. Aldershot: Avebury, 1993.

Quote from "Hydra Decapita" (2010) by The Otolith Group.


Stefan Peetri is a cultural critic with a background in philosophy and cultural studies. He works for Müürileht.

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