“Leisure Rules”1

by Sabrina Tarasoff

"Three rules that all Parisians are following, unfortunately: first one is, everything is overrated, ‘cause you know, I deserve better than this. Second rule. I came by all that stuff before you did. It was better before. And third thing, if it’s outside of the péripherique, then I don’t even want to hear about it.”2

Parisians have always been eager to be first to announce the death of something. Anything, really. The death of the monarchy. The Death of Marat. The death of painting, or art as a whole. Fashion dies many times a year with the oncoming of each new sartorial event. Or, as in the case of Julien Haguenauer, one of the dj’s followed in Resident Advisor’s mini documentary series on contemporary scenes in techno music: the death of clubbing. In the documentary, however, we follow Haguenauer and his companions around the city of Paris, as they declare the almost spiritualized second coming of techno music, with himself and his peers in the epicentre of its emergence. Though the emphasis is on the constitution of an underground scene, what Real Scenes: Paris invites the viewer into is a paradoxical vision of excess, of possibility and reverie, and little reality to count for its production in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Through experimental parties held in industrial and (privately funded) spaces in the suburbs, recording studios placed in utopian, lofty buildings with a free-for-all attitude and a boyish decadence behind it all, and Sunday afternoon rave alternatives for teatime, we begin to understand Hagenauer's techno-avant-garde as something subjectively constructed, and unaffected, or more likely, uninterested, by sociopolitical influences. Rather, what Hagenauer's vision of techno resonates is a magnetism felt by the participants of their projects towards specific individuals, whom are respectively constructing their identities through a strong fictionalization of the self based on both a negation and an affirmation of the just-past of Paris techno.

Real Scenes considered, what this bears the thought of is how emerging generations in the art world similarly attempt to distinguish themselves as a part of the “new” by using procedural narratives and a romanticization of the past in order to institute their position. There is, undoubtedly, a distortion that occurs between reality and fiction in those who imagine themselves as ‘contemporary’; the juxtaposition of the emerging scenes in art and techno, however, does not only lie in this attempt to realize a fiction much preferred to reality, but also in its crystallization in a spirituous, entropic, almost delirious environment. Clubbing, nightlife and parties, though no revelation to techno, are seemingly inextricably related to the assembly of new ideas in art. From ancient symposia to Cabaret Voltaire to Bernadette Corporation’s early beginnings organizing parties in a drug-infused New York club milieu, art (and particularly art in crisis) seems to find a catharsis in social functions. And these events, in and of themselves, play a function for art by reappropriating a deeply felt social dissatisfaction into a place where ideas and creativity manifest as collective energy, excitement, or more concretely, a reinforcing atmosphere towards future productivity. The real question that arises from this, then, is how do these attitudes and energies adopted by artists develop into structural tools for producing art? This is to say, how do we maintain our conviction of a positive and sincere futurity for art even the day after the party when the hangover, the reality of the situation, sets in?

To understand the division between affirmation and uncertainty felt in the search for collective identity, particularly within the context of a romanticization of nightlife, it seems appropriate to frame the discussion around more specific events. There is perhaps no better (or more timely) example, then, than the New Year’s Eve as an object of inquiry into the coalescing of an art scene. As the quintessential party of the year, regarded by most Parisians as a faxing and clichéed tradition, the New Year’s party is nevertheless rarely disregarded. The collective sentiment is to make no plans whatsoever, relying instead on the magnetism of certain individuals to draw the rest towards them, resulting in an ideal scenario where everyone finds themselves in the same place at the same time. To consider this epitomal character as the ‘life of the party’ perhaps sounds trivial, but bears a relevance to where our attentions are focused, and thereby, to how we hierarchize our social structures within art. Visibility, publicity, an air of celebrity: it is hardly a new phenomenon to equivocate social relevance with artistic importance, particularly when dictated by the cultural mythology of a city where the role of the artist has been so historically romanticized.

This is partially contingent on the way that we construct our contemporary realities by creating metonymic associations to that, which we wish to equivocate ourselves—or our environments—with. Bataille, in his essay The Language of Flowers, deems that “the appearance would introduce the decisive values of things…”3, which associates a superficiality to the formation of the symbolic interpretation of specific figures within a scene. In Bataille’s text, the discourse surrounds the ‘intelligible signs’ that stand as differences between various flowers; the subject of inquiry is, of course, a very structural interpretation of linguistic significance. Without delving too deeply into post-modern linguistics, however, I’d be tempted to draw a conjecture between Bataille’s flowers and the figures emerging out of the nightlife in Paris, as mutually based on collective impressions, cultural superstition and repetition. Just as easily as we understand that wormwood signifies bitterness for its bitter palate4, can we begin to understand why an artist central to a group’s nightlife would become associated as central to the equivalent art scene.

On the other hand, returning to the situation of the New Year’s party and its nocturnal assemblage, it is through such social structuring and repetitive association that we come to hope that the company we find ourselves with will be indicative of the symbolic futurity we are faced with in the shifting year. Plans, at this point, begin to crystallize and peers merge into small social clusters seeking to coalesce with others further in the night. As we each search for this final destination, the elusive ‘great party’, paradoxically, our identities begin to collectivize, to find a communion through a mutual orientation towards a goal. We have animated discussions over linguine alla vongole and coupes de champagne about the year just-past, new beginnings, exhibitions seen, dating in the artworld, sex, consumerism, projects we’d like to undertake. We unwittingly pass into a Nietzschean state of intoxication where the individual sense of self becomes an almost promiscuous unity; a euphoric, momentary belief in utopian visions for art’s future justified by the presence of like-minded individuals. Art, in its most ideological state, begins to create an energy. Here, the aspiration to be “someone” or something within this context increases, however, also loses interest in individualism in favour of the sensation of togetherness, proximity and progress. This is perhaps better articulated in Bernadette Corporation’s collectively authored novel Reena Spaulings:
People want to be someones. But the really exciting challenge is to become no one. And where
will you find no ones? In nowhere. Where things are exploding.5
This aptly surmises not only a desire to realize one’s own narratives and personal fictions, but further, how these fictions elide together to institute a social (or artistic) scene through the alluring potentials of collectivity. The condition that arises looks suspiciously like groupthink, yet as its source is not solely the minimization of conflict for the sake of social placidity, what it suggests further is a sense of genesis, of potential beginnings energized by the dispersal of ideas and aspirations. The space of the party becomes impressionistic almost, an envisioned canvas that does different things up close and from a far, making the collective hallucination of a “scene” ever-more intense. New Year’s Eve, specifically, finds itself in the end as “the ultimate collective experiment”6, constituent of a sea of bodies sharing not only Lidl beer, gin in plastic cups and viognier straight from the bottle, but a sense of context based on a mutual appreciation of the complicity between social circumstances and its possibilities for creative exchange. Ideologies and intoxication are interwoven by seamlessly mixed tracks on someone’s soundcloud, our conversations consuming the future quicker than we can realize its advent. Finally, within all this, somewhere around 5 a.m, one’s involvement in the party becomes reminiscent of the scene in John Hughes’ film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where we recall Cameron staring intently at a Seurat painting inside of the Art Institute of Chicago; in this witching hour, faces begin to blur the more you look and the gestures of the landscape begin to emerge. On a narrative level, within the context of the New Year’s, the sense of identity that had consecrated during the night begins to dissolve. There an immersion into pure noise as the tangential movements of techno and art find their final confrontation in the night, in a place where, paraphrasing from Adam Harper’s article Vaporwave and the pop-art of the Virtual Plaza, ‘the music is lo-fi and the avant-garde on offensive’8.

There has been an increasing amount of articles and interviews circulating recently pondering over this new-found energy in Paris as an art scene, notably a very concise overview of our past year in exhibitions, written by Francesca Gavin for Artsy Editorial9. In the piece, she outlines the importance of the developmental structures of institutions such as the Palais de Tokyo or emerging project spaces in Belleville and Ménilmontant, as emerging venues working towards dusting off Paris from its rigorous traditionalism. Gavin’s observations on these projects pinpoint very precisely where the new scenes are crystallizing; in parallel, the purpose behind this text is not to reduce the emergence of these exhibitions and curatorial projects to a simple notion of the l’air du temps, but rather to consider the role of social proximity and collectivity in reaching these ends. Afterall, if Paris is to progress beyond its established identity as the heart of modernism, the change must come not only from a renunciation of this “bourgeois provincialism” that Gavin describes by considering the interesting events that have emerged in the past year, but further from an acceptance of the social construction that lies behind its entire project. Art’s progression into autonomy was not an ahistorical event, nor was the development of Paris as its ultimate epicentre; it was a project initiated from a collective necessity to reposition the status of art in the context of its sociopolitical circumstances. The necessity seen and felt today in Paris seems to aim to rediscover what a “free-living, free-thinking self” (to lend Sarbanes’s term) might imply as a collective endeavour, opposing itself to modernism’s overbearing individualism and institutionalization. This sense of conviviality can be seen as a mode of creative exchange that expands the capacity for art to think ahead of itself, thus beginning to consecrate something already felt within its social conditions, but unable to escape the procedural narratives that had been set by the autonomy of art in the city. At that, art emancipates itself from the expectation of an already existing category to fall into, relying on the cathartic experiences of sociability, production and reception to expand the framework we exist in. Ultimately, the focus I maintain on the nightlife of the city as an indicator of its artistic and social development is based on an attempt to obscure the traditionalist picture of Paris and the strong figures that have emerged from it, and instead reveal a genuine search for self-worth and identity. In this sense, the search for new experimental parties within the techno scene, or collective identities within practicing artists, or Ferris Bueller’s decision to ditch school to find the perfect day of leisure (and, ultimately, himself), all function as strong parallels to the somewhat fatuous idealism circulating within the city. There is a teenage spirit that falls over it all, one, which may not in this instance give enough credit to the breadth and maturity of projects happening currently in the city, but hopefully depart an air of conviction surrounding its futurity.

Thanks to Guillaume Maraud for his influence on the writing of this piece.


1Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck and Mia Sara. Paramount Pictures, 1986. DVD.
3Bataille, Georges, and Allan Stoekl. "The Language of Flowers." Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1985. 12. Print.
4Bataille, Georges, and Allan Stoekl. "The Language of Flowers." Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1985. 11. Print.
5Bernadette Corporation, ed. Reena Spaulings. New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. Print.
6Bernadette Corporation, ed. Reena Spaulings. New York: Semiotext(e), 2004. Print.
7Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck and Mia Sara. Paramount Pictures, 1986. DVD.
8Harper, Adam. "Vaporwave and the Pop-art of the Virtual Plaza." DUMMY. N.p., 12 July 2012. Web.
9Gavin, Francesca. "The Return of Paris." Artsy Editorial. N.p., 7 Jan. 2014. Web.