It’s high time someone bottled the energy, glamour and hedonism of club life and unleashed it inside a gallery. That’s certainly the aim of Electric Dreams, a clubbing exhibition that uses sculpture, photography, video and, of course, music from London, New York, Tokyo and Berlin to conjure up a nocturnal, underground world.
The show deftly taps into the current 1980s revival: punk, primitive electro remixes marketed as ‘tech-pop’, new romantic androgyny; the camp, trashy over-the-top look that gives glamour a new sleazy dimension.
Exhibition curator Catherine Wood describes it as ‘work that references pop culture and pop art through a kind of surrealist filter, so everything’s a bit tweaked, a bit too glamorous so it becomes kind of gothic’.
Jack Pierson’s neon lights look like the signs that pepper any urban corner, whether they are promoting a sex shop or a taxi rank. ‘I like the way [the signs] tap into different desires, like food, cheap things. They kind of cater to all your desires,’ says Wood. It’s all about instant gratification, which is exactly what clubs offer.
Desire is also a feature of Steven Gontarski’s sculptures. ‘They’ve got a very sexual charge,’ says Wood. ‘His work has morphed from a very fetishistic, sexual kind of thing into a much more gothic, baroque look.’ The figures look like a photo of writhing dancers taken with a slow exposure: a tangle of arms, legs and hips as the figures make shapes on the dancefloor.
Shots by Japanese photographer Chikashi Kasai from a series entitled Tokyo Dance are mounted in a line on the sweep of a wall in the Curve. Walking past gives you a taste of clublife in all its glory, like the image of a sweat-soaked, shirtless clubber as he stares, blank-faced into the lens.
Another of Kasai’s shots shows a traffic jam on a flyover in Tokyo, the tail lights filter through the exhaust fumes to create an image that looks just like a smoky dancefloor. Kasai’s images tap into one of Wood’s aims with the exhibition: to show the way a city transforms from a dull environment in the day to a hedonistic stage set at night. This change is especially profound in Tokyo. ‘This is where the transformation at night is most extreme,’ says Wood. ‘Life is very structured, so the release is that much greater.’
Another key ingredient that affects the clubbing environment is the cocktail of narcotics people consume to heighten the experience. The ‘I love drugs’ sign, in the simple style of an ‘I love NY’ T-shirt, is a simple, but effective message, as concise as a big yellow smiley face on an old acid house T-shirt.
As for the excess, there’s always Fischerspooner’s video. This is where clubbing culture either reaches its camp zenith or disappears up its own arse. Fischerspooner’s video is a showcase for the band’s latest assault on the charts, Emerge, with the band’s front man lisping away in front of the camera, dressed to look like a cross between Gary Numan, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes.
The video certainly spices the exhibition up a bit, but while the other exhibits make incisive observations about the world of clubbing, Fischerspooner seems to just use all the imagery for its own self-promotion.
Electric Dreams runs from 10 July to 26 August at the Curve, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2