Raving about the museum

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What does a museum mean to you? Do you think that museums have lost touch with younger audiences? That museums are committed to an antiquated model of cultural consumption? Food for thought! To help us digest, we met with Lars Hiele, who organises R.A.V.E. in S.M.A.K., the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent on Thursday, the 1st of June 2023. This Reactive Audio Visual Exploration tries to reimagine the museum by foregrounding the process of co-creation and opening the museum's doors to a slew of subcultures.

This event juxtaposes the broader question of cultural reach, with a focus on subcultures gaining access to established cultural spaces. Lars and S.M.A.K. are looking to provide answers through the orchestration of a rave with a distinct co-creative character.

Tell us a little more about yourself. Who are you?

My name is Lars and I’m a master’s student at Sint Lucas Academy of Arts in Antwerp. I did three years of Communication Design and now I’m doing a Master's in the Applied Context. Somewhere in the middle of my studies, my love for techno and subcultures took over and everything I’ve created since then has covered those topics. Basically, my work is about the relationship between nightlife, music, design and subcultures. My rave obsession also translates into graphic design as I run my own design studio, STUDIO ROKERSRUIMTE, where I do graphic design for the techno scene. On top of that, I host an event series in Antwerp and I’m doing my master’s research project at S.M.A.K.

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What got you into audio-visual design and performance?

Well, it’s quite interesting. In the second year of my studies, we had to make a rebrand of a location that used to have a different purpose. So of course I turned it into a techno club. Conceptually speaking, I wanted to have the music make the design. A teacher told me that this wouldn’t be possible. You should never tell me something isn’t possible ‘cause then I have to do it [Laughs]. It seems I kind of rolled into doing audiovisual design and never looked back.

Conceptually speaking, I wanted to have the music make the design

What is R.A.V.E. all about?

R.A.V.E. focuses on how music, design, art and audiences collide and interact. The project sets out with the goal of getting subcultures to come to the museum. Not in a way that they are being baited back into the museum, but in a way that foregrounds their cultures and their worlds. This is to question what a museum does and shows but also to use the institute to change what distinct subcultures can mean. Letting a RAVE take place inside a museum means that it becomes art!

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The project consists of three parts. There is creation, co-creation and exhibition. It’s crucial for me to involve the people who are part of the scene. This is also why DJ Pieter Vandenhoudt will make a soundtrack for the exhibition and Grid will curate the event. The creation happens inside the rave box urging people to come look at the process. Then there’s the actual event where through warmth cameras and infrared sensors the movements of people are captured, and the visuals are made. After the event, all the input that was collected gets projected onto the box as a memory of the event. In this way, museum visitors who don’t attend raves can experience it retrospectively. Perhaps this is the moment when the installation temporarily becomes an art piece.

What about the subcultures that play a central role in your project? Is there a distinct effort to identify subcultures or is it a broad appeal to ‘young people’ to come to the museum?

One of the biggest issues I have with museums regarding young audiences is the use of the label ‘young people’. That’s why the project focuses on subcultures: people are all different and subcultures are very much alive. The more you go to the underground the more you realize there is so much culture there that people tend to overlook. It’s about fighting for these spaces that allow subcultures to flourish as small habitats for new cultures. For me, rave culture is more important than the music itself.

The more you go to the underground the more you realise there is so much culture there that people tend to overlook

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Why is space so important? 

Space is super important as subcultures seem to need spaces to exist. Without space, subcultures might be lost. We are already seeing that for young people physical space has in part disappeared as we are all sort of sucked into our phones now. Therefore, safeguarding space to be together and to create projects is crucial.

Do you think there’s a risk of bringing subculture into the mainstream, by exposing them to an institution like a museum?

There definitely is. The gentrification of subcultures is a very big issue, especially if you look at what is happening in rave culture. Yet, we shouldn’t forget that subcultures always start the mainstream in a way. So, there is a trickle-down effect but having a project like this creates an opportunity to be a part of the change into the mainstream instead of being appropriated. In my opinion, this creates room for a very honest portrayal of what these subcultures mean.

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What about the role of the museum?

The museum plays a crucial role as it grounds the conceptual idea of bringing subcultures into non-subculture spaces. In a way, this also means tapping into the DNA of rave cultures that have always sought out different spaces. It’s quite crucially about recreating the ecosystem of the rave and making a social space inside the museum. If you think about it, a museum is a space where you can discover new things by looking, thinking, talking and philosophy. I also notice this in raves, so I think there is a sisterhood between the two spaces. The concept of this first Reactive. Audio. Visual. Exploration. could be applied to other subcultures. This way a future museum can function as a hub for cultural connection between communities through art. The meaning of ‘what was’, ‘what’s happening now’ and ‘what could be’ collide.

What does the ideal museum look like to you?

Often people can come to look at a collection or exhibition, end of story. I think these very classic ideas of what a museum is haven’t been changed in a long time and explain why they are losing relevance to young audiences. For me, the ideal museum would be a place of philosophy, conversation, events and music all coming together. I’m glad there is a willingness from S.M.A.K. museum to go the extra mile and join me in pushing for a co-creative project.

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Perhaps as a last note, could you dissect the acronym for us?

R.A.V.E. stands for reactive, audiovisual exploration. For me, the word ‘reactive’ has multiple meanings when it comes to this project. On the one hand, it’s reacting to the museum, to the cultural shift that I discussed before. On the other, reactive in a literal way as it is reacting to the audience. If you are present at the event, your physical being in space will influence and interact with the work. Audiovisual basically emphasizes that this project is genuinely about the marriage of both. And exploration is about the idea of figuring it out. There is a chance that this might fail, but that’s ok. We are exploring and figuring it out and that’s what a research project should be about.

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> R.A.V.E. <br/>01.06.2023 - S.M.A.K., Ghent<br/>Buy your tickets here<br/> @larshiele / @smakgent</div></div>

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