Strobe lights, fluorescent spandex, and bleepy electronic music. Is this a rave? These days, it's more likely to be a gallery opening. With a growing number of artists using elements indigenous to the club scene, rave is finding new meaning in a "fine art" context, nearly 20 years after its genesis. Paeans to the subculture range from the obvious–Kenny Scharf's blacklit-and-fluorescent "closets" and Frankie Martin's videos and performances–to the merely suggestive, such as Jim Drain and Ara Peterson's hallucination-inspiring installations, but similar themes emerge. Harkening back to the 1960s psychedelic art scene, artists combine sound and visuals to provoke a visceral response from gallery patrons (many of whom probably haven't experienced a 4 a.m. warehouse party for themselves). Rave ideology–using technology to build a better future, drugs as mind-expansion, collective consciousness, and a DIY spirit–reappears in this work; artists expound on foundations laid by Yayoi Kusama, Fred Tomaselli, and Genesis P. Orridge by referencing and employing modern technologies, including motion graphics, digital video, and the internet. Though you might be expecting a satirical spin on the culture, the art within is an intoxicating celebration of the freedom of rave–or at least an attempt to use the past as an antidote to the present.
Mariko Mori's early work explored Japanese identity in the mid-'90s as it was being shaped by the influence of globalization, technology, and popular culture. Dressing up like manga comic characters and photographing herself in the tech-crazed backdrop of Tokyo's urban hot spots, Mori's anime personas explored the edge of (virtual) reality. Her seductively robotic fashion choices in 1994's Play With Me and Warrior were nearly identical to cyborg fantasy looks being rocked by '90s techno heads. A year later, Mori personified a Japanese schoolgirl cross-wired with a headphone-wearing candy raver in Birth of a Star; photographs of the piece depict her as a cyberpunk pop star wired for sound, amalgamating references from global pop culture in a way only modern technology could have made possible.
Mori's more recent works–including 2003's Wave UFO and Oneness–speak more directly to the notion of "universal connectivity." Wave UFO invites visitors to enter an interactive "outer space" capsule where they are equipped with brainwave monitors. Abstract projections based on the brainwaves appear on the ceiling inside the capsule; each participant sees their own visual representation as well as how it reacts to the other visitors' brainwaves while inside the ship. The entire piece nods to one of Mori's grander themes: technology's ability to unite individuals, and break down national and cultural barriers. Similarly, Oneness invites viewers to hug sculptures of six life-sized aliens (a favorite image of the '90s) with their hands interlocked. When squeezed, the aliens emit a soft green glow from their eyes and their hearts start beating. Will peaceful communication with other galaxies soon be possible, or is this just the ultimate chill-out room? You decide.
A lot of former candy ravers now sell insurance and have kids and basically deny that they ever wore neon orange UFO pants and 50 million plastic-bead bracelets and see-through purple backpacks with stuffed animals inside. Not Frankie Martin. Despite being possibly too young to have lived the golden years of rave, Martin nonetheless takes the over-the-top utopia suggested by the PLUR (Peace. Love. Unity. Respect.) slogan and applies it to, well, her entire life. Exhibit A is her 2005 installation, One Minute Rave, at New York's Canada gallery; in a black-lit room full of re-purposed neon afghans, the installation treated viewers to 60 seconds of flashing strobes, a cardboard cut-out DJ, and pulsating videos and electronic music, all with a distinctly childlike, hand-done aesthetic. Collaborations with pop-culture hacker Cory Arcangel yielded 2004's Cat Rave (a video of a cat put into a tiny, rave-like environment) and 414-3-RAVE-95, a fictitious public-access show where two lanky nerds have a dance party against a background of black-and-white patterns you may remember from the O.G. Apple program MacPaint. Of course, that's not all. Frankie also customizes sneakers, makes stuffed dolls that look like pizza slices (under the name Puffy Smalls), enlists her little sisters to make psychedelic marker drawings with her, and does performances alongside Milwaukee nerdcore heartthrob Juiceboxxx. You might think to yourself, "I could do this," but, frankly, you don't have the balls. You might also be wondering to yourself, "Is this really art?" Well why don't you ask Space 1026, the agnès b. galerie du jour in Paris, the organizers of the Liverpool Biennial, or the Bergdorf Goodman Men's Store–all of whom have exhibited her work.
Enlightenment had already showcased their work at Paris' Colette store and Tokyo's Parco Gallery by 2000, but it was their inclusion in the Takashi Murakami-curated Superflat exhibition (Los Angeles MOCA, 2001) that brought them the glory.
The four-member Japanese collective–led by graphic design powerhouse Hiro Sugiyama–is best known for a cross-media approach that combines computer graphics, digital painting, and video work to address the boundaries between reality and fantasy. As some of the most in-demand graphic designers in Japan, they are just as likely to work on a cell-phone ad campaign as a gallery installation, blurring the line between their commercial work and "fine art." In summer 2006, this manifested itself in a carnival-esque installation (part of Deitch Projects' After the Reality show) that combined playful digital prints of mirrors, skeletons, and monkeys (set against a purple vinyl backdrop) with a surreal, looped video piece and a music video of vibrating abstract shapes set to pulsing dance beats.
At an after-party for the gallery show, Enlightenment really loosened up, doing a VJ set with music from erstwhile collaborator Towa Tei, the Japanese DJ/producer best known for his involvement in Deee-Lite. This laid their rave influence bare, making it apparent the impact that modern software and VJ techniques–namely mixing seemingly random visual elements together into something with a whole new meaning–has had on their output.
Assume Vivid Astro Focus
Before superstar DJs were gods and raves were like rock concerts, the rave scene was thought of as a collective effort–the most obvious manifestation of this were party crews, from techno travelers like Spiral Tribe to more market-driven "rave organizations" like Fantazia and Universe. assume vivid astro focus (the name a riff on a Throbbing Gristle's Assume Power Focus album) is Rio de Janeiro-born Eli Sudbrack's attempt at creating his own post-modern party crew–to the extent that he dislikes claiming leadership of this amorphous collective. Nonetheless, it was his original idea to spread avaf's cultural virus via large-scale installations that incorporate video art, neon sculptures, porn drawings, and decal stickers. Though copious notes are kept of both the influences and outcomes of his installations, his sensory-overload projects are meant to be ephemeral and ultimately destroyed–a none-too-subtle nod to the idea of the "temporary autonomous zone," posed in 1991 by anarchist writer Hakim Bey.
Avaf's absorption and digestion of cultural detritus often incorporates elements of dance music and its attendant (often sexually charged) culture. Sudbrack (who now lives in New York) also frequently collaborates with Honeygun Labs' Bec Stupak, who began her career in video art by VJing raves at the (Washington) DC Armory. For the 2004 Whitney Biennial, the pair reclaimed public space with a site-specific installation at the rollerskate circle at Central Park (using music from L.A. band Los Super Elegantes); in 2005, the duo tried their hand at pop, making an unofficial music video for Yoko Ono's Walking on Thin Ice. Most recently, avaf collaborated with Brazilian baile funk proponents Tetine–themselves no strangers to cultural sampling–during the 2006 Tropicalia show at London's Barbican Centre. And, like the ravers of yore, Sudbrack has left room in this recombinant utopia for mass consumerism–a line of LeSportsac bags printed with avaf designs is out now.
Jim Drain & Ara Peterson
A forest of giant pinwheels. A fluorescent kaleidoscope hallway. Rotating geodesic spheres. A soundtrack of buzzing analog electronics and alien disco from Spacemen 3/E.A.R. genius Peter Kember (a.k.a. Sonic Boom). Jim Drain & Ara Peterson's 2005 show at New York's Deitch Projects gallery was a hallucinatory scene somewhere at the intersection of Willy Wonka's factory, the party sequences of the '60s B-movie Psych-Out, and a particularly well-done campsite at Burning Man. Named after a word for "lucid dreaming" (the surreal state between being asleep and awake), Hypnogoogia challenged viewers to reach altered mental states via intense optical onslaught (LSD-spiked punch optional).
Drain and Peterson have been practicing this art-punk shamanism for a while, though–notably as part of Forcefield, a Providence, RI collective birthed from the Fort Thunder warehouse (the same "scene" that also brought you Lightning Bolt and Black Dice/Soft Circle's Hisham Bharoocha). Like the love children of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and The KLF, Forcefield's show at the 2002 Whitney Biennial was a techno-hippie fun fest: A throng of humanoid sculptures, clad in fluorescent knitted suits, glowed, pulsed, and emitted synthesizer sounds created by the Forcefield band, which is composed of Peterson (a.k.a. Patootie Lobe) and Drain (known as Gorgon Radio), plus friends Meerk Puffy (Matt Brinkman) and Le Geef (Leif Goldberg). A closer listen to the installation's soundtrack, released in 2002 as the album Roggabogga (Load Records), reveals a sonic overload of broke-down booty anthems and intense, staticky noise made with analog gear, crazy oscillators, and fog horns. Post-modern electronic noise "happenings"? Hippie rave 3000? Sign up here.