Carl Craig: Party/After-party
March 6, 2020 – Summer 2021
Beacon, New York
Walking into Dia:Beacon, we felt the ground beneath our feet rumble, as if we were standing on the skin of a drum. “That must be the Craig,” my now-boyfriend remarked. He was referring to Party/After-party (2020): the five-year lovechild of Detroit-based DJ/producer Carl Craig and curator Kelly Kivland, a sound-and-light-installation that turned the basement of the former Nabisco packaging factory into a hologram of a night club.
Upstairs, we stood next to a row of Judds—large, plywood boxes installed in a grid. As the ground vibrated underneath our feet, I felt, maybe more acutely than ever, their presence. We were doubly aware of the space around us: once, as the minimalists wanted us to be, and twice, as the social distancing guidelines advised. In Art and Objecthood (1967), Michael Fried accused Judd’s boxes of being too theatrical, too much like humans, bemoaning their literal “stage presence” and their “hidden naturalism, indeed anthropomorphism.” He was referring to the fact that much minimalist sculpture is hollow, with interior cavities like humans, and that their “object-ness” activated an awareness of space in the viewer that amounted to theater. Here, the vibrations of Craig’s installation seemed to turn them into subwoofers, literally shaking them with an alternate history of minimalist practice rooted in the Black, queer, sonic experimentations of 1970s Detroit warehouses.
After a purple-lit descent, the first thing we saw downstairs was a large black scrim, installed to buffer the immediate sightline of the space. We walked around it into the cavernous basement room, where cylindrical columns stretched out like Roman aqueducts. Four Flavin-like light rods, one in each corner, emitted magenta shadows. A high ringing sound like tinnitus buzzed in our ears. We had stepped into the contemplative, After-party segment of the installation.
Other couples ambled about, holding their jackets, circling around a spotlight in the center of the room marked by a white duct-tape X on the floor. The music in this After-party section felt suspended, with long extended pauses and no heavy or regular bass. Walking towards the center, we saw that four speakers had been installed in a rectangle around the X, marking out an inner sanctum where the sound was more concentrated. We stepped in and out of this arena, between the “interior” space that the speakers outlined and its “exterior” where you could be more of a voyeur, looking at others in the spotlight.
The lights changed from purple to white, and the music transitioned into what I imagined was the Party segment. A solid, pounding bass anchored the previous wisps of melody, and synthy, jazz-inflected chords jabbed and animated the room. I felt my muscle memory stir, an echo of being at a rave: the impulse to take my shirt off, to dance vigorously, to take some drugs. But then I remembered where I was and I stopped. Both museum and raves share utopian aspirations. Both claim to be sites of transcendence and self-discovery, facilitators of new publics and producers of empathy. But while the museum might seek to achieve that through the Cartesian separation of mind over body, the rave seeks transcendence through their communion. So there was a conflict in my limbs: between the social architecture of the museum (to remain clothed, coherent, and reserved) and the indecorous impulses of the rave (to take drugs, to take off my clothes, to challenge the boundaries of the self). It seemed that something had been lost, or at least transformed, in this museum translation of the rave.
Craig clearly didn’t intend to recreate an exact simulacra of the club (although the 600 person pre-COVID opening was apparently quite close). Rather, the museum context defamiliarized it: as nightlife is shuttered nearly everywhere, the installation accrued new, mournful significances, becoming a eulogy for the loneliness of being in a perpetual After-party mode. And part of the success of Craig’s intervention was to draw an affinity between the heightened social awareness that the rave proposes and the heightened spatial awareness of the minimalist practices upstairs.
The tension in the music rose slowly. The fizz of a synthetic cymbal grew louder as the music peaked. Then, as if the factory were alive, the clerestory shutters opened and streamers of sunlight fell into the dark room. The lights strobed; a child shrieked in the corner; another couple moved their hips. I felt heat in the back of my throat and a tightness in my chest. This was the euphoria of the Party, crystallized around automated shutters inspired by the windows in Berghain’s Panorama Bar. “We should travel together when we can,” I said. He nodded, and in that quiet promise for the future, inched closer to being boyfriend. Just as quickly, the shutters closed and we returned to the darkness.