Today, Plymouth’s Union Street gives little away of its former glory. The impressive Palace Theatre, halfway down the street and recently saved from demolition, might lead to a regeneration of this once illustrious location. As artist Carl Slater’s exhibition ‘Crowd.Control’ points out, Union Street was also the centre of notorious rave parties in former club The Warehouse (once the Gaumont Cinema). The fact that these days it houses a televangelist broadcasting company is clearly not lost on Slater.
‘Crowd.Control’ is the result of a three-month residency at Plymouth Arts Centre during which Slater immersed himself in research around the 1990s rave scene of his hometown. Slater is no stranger to archival related research, in which he attempts to reconstruct forgotten histories. An interest in piecing evidence together in a suspenseful artistic ‘Who-dunnit’ leads to a preference for collage, both in the traditional paper-based technique, and in a sense of physical spatial build-up. ‘Crowd.Control’ thus exists out of various elements brought together in a clever layout that makes good use of the complicated space of the arts centre. Content wise it is reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merzbau’, which he also called ‘The Cathedral of Erotic Misery’, holding various hidden objects such as the cigarette butt of a visiting friend.
Building on the apparent relation between rave and religion (and art for that matter) in terms of worship and salvation, ‘Crowd.Control’ starts with significant flyers and other printed material from The Warehouse, the club that is the main focus of Slater’s quest. The subsequent video collage ‘Hyper.Crucible’ is the result of editing down over fifty hours of original V8 footage of the famous rave parties at the club. During the successful opening of the show, the overcrowded projection room made the video come extremely close to the observed overheated party atmosphere. In the relative quiet afterwards, a reviewing better discloses the alienating scenes, stressed by the soundtrack that from the familiar thumping sounds merges into a classical romantic theme.
Upstairs, a large-scale printed video still ‘Bless the Crowd with a UV light’ catches the eye, alluding to the ritual in which broken glow sticks were used, but also to the tactics of flyposting and guerrilla advertising. It is confronted with the exquisite collage ‘The Haemorrhage of St. John’ in which Slater graphically connects the vivid fantastical visions of this Biblical figure to the club night Revelation at The Warehouse. Both works certainly give the ‘Mind your head’ health and safety notice that is painted on a nearby low beam a double entendre.
The show finishes with a mock sacred atmosphere created by the yellow greenish Day-Glo of an ‘altar’. With its hidden turntable it points at the heightened position of the DJ as a place of worship. A pillar in the foreground, its top filled with Vicks vapour rub, acts in this context as an initiating holy-water font, as the substance apparently would intensify the experience of rave-goers.
With the optical illusion of a faint pink afterglow connecting back to the start of the exhibition, and its bright pink introduction wall and exhibition poster, ‘Crowd.Control’ creates a sense of the semi-endless merry-go-round atmosphere of the raves. And an invitation for another go.