You’ve probably seen the psychedelic edition of Vermeer a girl with an earring slapped on posters all over campus, with glitch-like spikes and yellow smileys in his eyes. The flyers and posters advertise the Norman Rea Gallery’s first post-containment exhibition, and it promises to go hard.
The iconic UK rave scene of the 90s is revived through the Norman rave exhibition, which kicked off last Monday evening. Visitors received free entry, free alcoholic beverages, and an immersive multimedia experience that incorporated sets from student DJs and a colorful live painting by Yorkshire artist, ‘The Medicine Man’. The artists come from all over and included famous digital designer Ondrej Zunka, clothing brands Xyber Clothing and Etha Ravewear, as well as some student members of the gallery.
The inspiration behind Norman Rave came from the Saatchi Gallery 2019 Sweet harmony, which was a retrospective exhibition on the theme of British rave culture, “through the voices and lenses of those who lived it”. The exhibit featured interactive audiovisual pieces from members of the original movement – a theme the Norman Rea Gallery channeled through the inclusion of DJs and a variety of media. I was impressed to learn that one of the artists involved in the student exhibition is Seana Gavin, a London-based artist who had her photographic documentation of the rave movement included in Sweet harmony in 2019. Seana’s collage is featured in Norman rave, entitled Time spent (2014). The link between inspiration and student exposure is strong; the Conservatives have clearly done their research.
The themes of Sweet harmony caught the attention of the gallery committee through a blog post written by Edsard Driessen, who reviewed the Saatchi experience and described the transformation of the club scene from punk to acid house with dynamism. We discuss with Edsard his experience of the exhibition:
You wrote the article review that inspired all of this in 2020, halfway through the first lockdown. Do you think the theme of the exhibition would have been so impactful without the shadow of the pandemic on our shoulders?
I would obviously hope not, but I think the pandemic has shifted our focus on some things and others. Without the ability to club or party, people had to improvise and take matters into their own hands. As a result, I was seeing illegal raves happening all over the country, all organized via social media and it reminded me of the massive boom in rave culture in the 90s, especially in Manchester.
These raves that took place years ago acted as a response to the political and cultural climate of the time and I feel like the pandemic almost recreated that environment, making an investigation into rave culture and Free parties all the more impactful as we can finally relate to the DIY nature of it all.
What made you want to visit and review Sweet harmony in the first place ?
I’ve always had a passion for dance and club music, so when I saw the Saatchi Gallery doing a rave culture exhibit, I knew I had to check it out! At the time, my pals and I had become DJs and were looking to host our own parties, so the theme of the show was something that definitely struck a personal tone.
The photography and layout of the exhibit was something I had never encountered before and the way they interacted with the viewer through the DIY music production stations was something I found fascinating. Prior to writing the review for the NRG blog, I had worked with Uncultured Creatives investigating rave culture in Blackburn and Darwen. So coming from this experience, I thought it would be appropriate to remember my time in the gallery.
Music is a central theme of the exhibitions. How did you feel as the DJ who performed on the opening night?
Very nervous! It was my very first live in a club with a lot of people so I felt the pressure! But when I started filming, everything went even better than expected! It was an unreal feeling and I will always cherish it. The after-party was surprisingly planned by the NRG committee and the volunteers, and all the DJs were crazy. I would like to warmly thank all the DJs who showed their skills behind the decks namely Theo Heidensohn from Chameleon who helped tremendously to make sure the equipment and sound were all together.
What is your favorite piece of art from the Norman rave, and why?
All of the pieces on display in the gallery are absolutely stunning and I would recommend everyone to take a look, as the works are all so different and unique in their own way.
Stan Fonzie’s photography, Cruck is my favorite work in the show because it really captures the random and weird things one might see in a rave or nightclub. In addition, the format and use of colors are so reminiscent of the early 1990s photographs exhibited during the Sweet harmony exhibition, I couldn’t not love it.
The past year has been a showdown on freedoms, with numerous government lockdowns and restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As the gallery’s first opportunity to organize and present an exhibition with a festive opening night for a long time, the pressure was on. The Norman Rea Gallery has put on a fantastic, vibrant and energetic exhibition that perfectly captures the essence of ’90s rave culture.
Norman rave runs through October 22, so go while you can. Follow @NormanReaGallery on social media for more information on the artists involved.
Image credits: Myles Woodruff