ALL is an unabashedly avant-garde nightclub, the successor to the much-loved Shelter, and a bit of a flashpoint in the underground music community. Its supporters are ardent that it's a cultural anchor of the city, far beyond being a place to go out and get wasted. Detractors think it's gone too avant. And now it might close. Earlier in the month, the club put out an SOS call to help it raise 300,000rmb to pay expenses including rent, or be forced to close. Promoters and artists have rushed in to organize events, including a pretty interesting-looking video exhibition titled "We Came To Linger" happening over two days this week, with nine videos very loosely related to club culture and demise. Ahead of the show, which kicks off on Wednesday May 13, I spoke to the show's curator, Alvin Li.
All of M, Kenneth Tam, 2019
SmartShanghai: Why now? why do we need this show right now, when we are supposed to be social distancing?
This exhibition “We Came to Linger” is at once both a fundraiser and a gesture of homage to Club ALL. It rose as an urgent response to ALL’s recent financial struggles, which might force the club to close at the end of May—that is, only three weeks from now. So, this exhibition is, on one hand, my way of helping the club raise some money. During these two nights, we will have a pay-as-you-wish door policy, which encourages audiences to pay however much they feel comfortable while also welcoming those who can’t afford an entrance fee due to financial stress induced by the virus outbreak. On the other hand, as someone who practically grew up with Shelter and ALL, and who considers ALL a cultural site and community holder to which I am permanently indebted to — my second home even — I feel that if ALL really were to close, I must give it something worthy of its immense contribution to Shanghai throughout the years. As for the question why now, the short answer is we simply have no time, as the May 30 deadline is fast approaching. Given the still ongoing outbreak, the decision to mount this exhibition, a public event, is not made lightly. Health risks have been evaluated. Shanghai has seen zero local cases since March 3 and on May 9, the city further lowered its public health emergency response to the third level, making mask-wearing in “hermetic, crowded spaces, where close contact with others is inevitable,” such as clubs, no longer mandatory. Still, in order to minimize health risks as much as possible, we’ve decided to stretch the exhibition, originally planned as a one-night event, to two nights, so that the crowd flow can be more manageable. The nine works will be displayed on separate screens mounted across the space, with abundant space between each to avoid crowdedness. Hand sanitizers will also be ready in front of artworks that require wearing headphones.
Dusk of Tehran, Tao Hui, 2014
SmartShanghai: You say it's inspired by the "rich repertoire" of club culture. What is club culture? Isn't this just going out, drinking and dancing? Where's the “culture”?
I’m a bit wary of pigeonholing. To me, anything that happens in clubs are part of this thing we call club culture, really. Some people go out to get wasted. We’ve all been there and we all probably still do it on bad days. The ability for clubs to absorb negative feelings and let us release that energetic excess through dancing and shit-talking so we can move on the next day is very much part of the DNA of clubs. The piece of turd that was forever floating in the toilet of the men’s bathroom in the late Shelter is, to me, also part of club culture. So is this whole routine, or ritual, of going out. However, aside from these more contingent, trivial aspects, the kernel of club culture lies in the practice of artists who, working mostly in sound and performance, take seriously the club as a site for creative expression and, for those oppressed by the social order, as a site for political movement. So we have drag, we have voguing, we have our gabber, we have our Vaginal Davis and Arca…The list is endless.
Karma Cycle, Ip Wai Lung, 2019
SmartShanghai: Could you talk a little about ALL's position as a "cultural center" in Shanghai? As something more than just a place to get drunk and dance?
There are clubs that exist for profit more than anything else, and they come and go like trends in fashion; and then there are clubs like ALL that work to hold a scene and community together, through their shared passion for music and other modes of artistic expression. Throughout the years ALL (previously Shelter) and the label SVBKVLT associated with it have been dedicated to inviting international bookings to Shanghai while at the same time supporting local producers, bringing them onto the global stage. Over the years they have also managed to hone a soundscape that is distinctly their own. You know it the second you walk into a party at ALL there’s nothing generic about it. ALL has also been a generous supporter of the local LGBTQ communities for years, both by providing a venue to local events and by bringing many queer and trans DJs and producers to China.
Ex Nilalang: From Creature, From Creation, Club Ate (Justin Shoulder & Bhenji Ra), 2017
SmartShanghai: How did you pick the artists for the show? Could you introduce a few?
Instead of selecting artists, I usually look for particular artworks that fit well with a theme I choose to work with. Since “We Came to Linger” is, in a nutshell, an homage to a club facing a not unlikely premature death, I wanted to find artworks that play with the gesture of giving homage; artworks that deal with the functions of social ritual, something often found in clubs as well as other communal spaces; and I also went looking for more speculative artworks that help us picture a future world without clubs, when things have either completely migrated online or, further in time, when humans have ceased to exist. You might notice after you see the show that it permeates with queer aesthetics. I want to say that, even though I do have a background in LGBTQ activism, having co-founded CINEMQ and being involved with ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival, this happened somewhat naturally and I didn’t really notice this underlying theme until after all the works were confirmed. But then again it makes sense because queer people have historically played significant roles in club history and culture. I’ll introduce three works that each belongs to one of the three groups mentioned above. In Tao Hui’s The Dusk of Tehran (2014), the artist directs an Iranian actress to reprise a heart-rending speech given by the late Hong Kong pop singer Anita Mui at her last concert in a bridal gown. With an upbringing as a child performer at lounges and nightclubs in 1960s Hong Kong, Mui became known as the “Madonna of Asia” in the 90s, but died tragically of cervical cancer in 2003 at the age of 40. Whereas Mui went on to perform her hit “Sunset Melody” after her speech, the female actress in Tao’s re-enactment remained silent while a song played on the radio. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has prohibited solo performances by female singers due to the belief that women’s voices can potentially trigger arousal. Here, through this gesture of homage to Mui, the artist creates a bond between women in two disparate cultures, hinting at commonalities – and possibilities of resistance – across cultural and political divides. The artist Kenneth Tam has never been to ALL but has generously offered to let me exhibit his work, All of M (2019), in which he brings together a diverse group of high school seniors and adult men to re-enact a one-of-a-kind high school prom. Through amusing interviews and exquisite mise-en-scène, the work invites us to look at the prom, and by extension dance parties in general, as sites where identity and a sense of social belonging are continually rehearsed and reinforced through social rituals. On a more apocalyptic note, Julian Charrière’s An Invitation to Disappear (which is part of the exhibition’s “Special Screening” program, and will only be screened once, starting at 9pm on Wednesday, May 13th) will transpose us to fields of monoculture palm oil plantation in Southeast Asia. As a linear camera takes us through endless rows of trees, natural sounds fade into pulsing techno beats (developed together with the British DJ and producer Inland), driving the audience to move their bodies to this alienating, desolate site of the Anthropocene, without a trace of human beings. On this night, we will leave some seats in the dance floor so that you can choose to either sit or dance through this 77-min wild dystopian trip.
An Invitation to Disappear, Julian Charrière, 2018
SmartShanghai: From the screenshots, often these works look grotesque or provocative or otherworldly. What's the connection to a nightclub?
I definitely went for a more provocative and imaginative selection of works rather than documentarist hot takes on club history. As for the reason… Perhaps because we have all been forcibly stuck with the singular reality centered on the virus for far too long? I selected these works because they can really take us to places, but not in an escapist sense; the metaphors and allusions in their stories will help us think more creatively of the functions and meaning of night clubs and of our social relations. I like how you used the word otherwordly to describe what you saw in those video stills, as that is also truly one of the most special tricks of nightclubs. Through music and intoxication it momentarily takes you to somewhere else, away from the here and now, and you always come back feeling charged, better.
Part Two/The Reprise of Cthulhu, Victoria Sin, 2017
SmartShanghai: What does it mean that "We Came To Linger”?
Well, it quite simply means that we are here to stay, that we are not going anywhere! We can’t let ALL go. That would truly be an unfathomable loss for Shanghai. At the same time, I think there is a poetic quality to this title, as it invokes a sense of serendipity and intimacy that I can find on no better occasions than a good night out.
Trance, Tianzhuo Chen, 2019
SmartShanghai: What do you want the viewer to get out of this show?
I hope “We Came to Linger” can make visitors think about the importance of the local scene, especially in light of this new normal of closed borders and geopolitical chaos. Don’t take it for granted! I also hope that, amid rising xenophobia and racism, this exhibition will remind you of the beauty of intimacy and simply just being together and sharing space with friends and strangers. "We Came To Linger" happens on Wednesday May 13 and Thursday May 14 at ALL. Starts at 7.30pm. Click here for details.