At 17:19, it will be 16am.Ambre Panhard in conversation with 16am
This is a retelling of a conversation with five members of the collective 16am with Aurélie, Ava, Arnaud, Camille and Samuel, held on the 4th of January 2023 between 17:19 and 19:08 at the Dionis, 3 Rue Letort, 75018, Paris. 16am is a collective of authors and transdisciplinary practitioners exploring the potential of the party as an artistic medium, shared fiction, and a context for creation and dissemination. You are invited to play the recording below to hear and feel the bar's ambiance that evening. The selected transcript of the original conversation also records specific moments that touch upon, in their form or content, elements that are linked to O.T.O.
First we all arrived and said hi to each other. Ava had just come back from a New Year’s performance. She ordered a Perrier and Sam and Camille got a beer. When Aurelie arrived, I asked if she wanted to take my seat on the couch as she was pregnant but she preferred to stay on the chair. I asked who didn’t speak English in case a few words slipped out. Camille said he didn’t speak English very well even though he had lived in Manchester, but working as a French teacher. I found it quite funny.
We went around the table to present ourselves and our practices. Aurélie started; she is a curator and book author engaged in long-term projects. Arnaud is a programer at the Sample, a space of creation and diffusion, and also teaches, writes and performs. Ava is an actor, singer, performer and author, she describes herself as having a regular stage practice. I really liked Ava’s voice. Samuel is an art critic, author, performer and also makes a bit of music. Finally, Camille trained in fine arts, writes a lot, performs, and presents himself as being “very fun”. He reminded me of my friend Hadrien who has a similar sense of humour.
I asked them what partying meant to them. There were probably five different answers to that question. They had different partying practices, for example some went to bed earlier than others. The collective explores the party as an artistic medium through which they untangle the differences between contemporary art spaces and partying spaces. Parties in white cubes spaces are completely neutralised and lose their festive energy while parties showing contemporary art doesn’t really work either. They’re interested in what constitutes the party - the bodies together, the fatigue, the saturation of the senses, the music, the different state of consciousness. Their work prompts different narrative forms and rumours through the party. They have only performed in art spaces for now - such as La maison des Art de Malakoff, which I went to for the first time after the interview, and La Villette - but they want to explore party spaces more. They’re interested in the moments that partying creates, in embracing what it generates and propagates.
They’re interested in inflecting the coordinates of contemporary art with the coordinates of the party. Sam explained how their work is about understanding the context and the coordinates of that context: the public it generates, peoples’ state of mind, their expectations and how to play with and against them. People who come to openings are usually there for a social moment, and they try to work with that in mind. It would bother them to just arrive, set up, do a performance, drop a text, and leave.
I wondered if there was a gap between the idea they planned and what actually happened during the performance. Aurélie explained that they avoid having expectations and do not anticipate what people will experience and how they will move. It’s this surprise element that moves them in fact. Nevertheless, a framework still has to be built so that the unexpected can happen, a part of the work is also about holding the risk of the unexpected. This is what also happens in parties. It's this notion of making a mess and seeing at what point it becomes dangerous or contentious. Their work attempts to create a bridge between what is planned and what isn’t.
Sam told me about the performance they did for an exhibition opening night at La Villette, which consisted in imprinting a horizon of expectation for the public, saying that at “9:45pm it will be 16am”. This is the title of the piece they performed in a stop-start format during the opening night. Five successive times, all the lights went out, a DJ started playing techno music sucking people in, and they performed very light things, texts, sometimes with music, sometimes without, which lasted about 15 minutes each. There was a scenography with lights that created alcoves that appeared around the works while they were being performed. The idea was to recreate this unique space-time of a house party, where you have the dancefloor on one side and the kitchen on the other, where someone is telling you something intimate, a little bit strange, which you may or may not like, and then it disappears, just like a dream. They wanted to work on the modalities of the opening, questioning and creating new ways for people to move and interact with the works. People attending the opening and performance did move differently and took different routes, but they didn’t know to what extent it was also because they were drunk.
I wondered about what their relationship to recording and documenting their performances was. I remember I struggled to find information about them to present to my fellow curators at the beginning of this year. This was something they did not take lightly and had thought a lot about. In fact they have a lot of archival materials, mainly photographs and texts, but were glad to hear I had a hard time finding any of it. I simply had to be there. The real capturing of their performance is in the intangible essence residing between the photographs and the scenarios they write narrating the parties. It’s a choice that not everything is captured, in fact it wouldn’t make sense, especially because a lot of their formats are very light and subtle. What is not archived can still be imagined through the scenario. Even the photos are very blurred and taken with a lot of grain, leaving space for interpretation and embracing fragmentation. I found this fascinating, especially when comparing it to Lewis Burton’s opinion on this for the techno rave come performance art platform INFERNO in London. In a conversation with us the week before I started writing this text, Lewis stressed that comprehensive archiving and documenting was an essential part of INFERNO. I would attribute this distinction to the divergence in intentions and uses of the spaces of performance (INFERNO is housed in club spaces) of both collectives.
Finally, maybe because this is something I had been thinking about in other projects, I was interested to know if they thought of the party as a democratic space. To be honest, when I asked the question, I wasn’t sure myself what I was asking. Arnaud said it reminded him of the party as a heterotopy, a bubble in time where alternative realities became possible but that this topic was something they tackled more individually in their practices rather than at the scale of the collective. Aurélie added that they were wary to address partying in too frontal a way because it might lose its fun. When you love something, if you look to define it too much, you might end up restricting it to something that is excluding and blocking. On the contrary, they are interested in creating a plurality of worlds, anchoring their work in the notions of rumours and fiction and asking if creating a community at the scale of a party is not living such a shared fiction. Coming back to my initial question, Camille’s final word was that in the grand scheme of things, they preferred a democracy to a dictature.