Carsten Höller’s African bar is a good night out, but our writer is hit by bad Congo vibes
Is Carsten Höller’s startling enthusiasm for the beer and art of the Congo a good thing or not? I had trouble deciding.
A year ago, before Orla Guerin began popping up on the 10 O’Clock News with her increasingly distressing accounts of rape and humiliation in Goma, I would certainly have leant towards a yes. If Höller, who is nothing if not a pioneering artist, has chosen to aestheticise the nocturnal pleasures of the Congo and bring them to a wider London audience, then, in the spirit of hands meeting across the ocean, his insights would surely have constituted a welcome development. But now? With all that is going on there?
Höller is best known for the exciting series of slides he erected inside the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern a couple of years ago, in a work entitled, somewhat forbiddingly, Test Site. I presume you careered down them too. Apparently, 3m people tried out the helter-skelter. A significant fraction of that total was me going back for more. I loved those slides. They awakened thrills and innocences in me that had lain dormant for decades. What fun it was to hurtle through the Tate at top speed, gibbering and hollering. Good art arouses great emotions, right? Few artworks in recent years have aroused as much undiluted joy in me as Höller’s Test Site.
So, I was well disposed to him and his wacky way of thinking when I got out the A-Z and began trying to locate Torrens Street, in Islington, north London, where Höller’s latest attempt to eradicate the divide between fun and art has just opened.
The Double Club is a cross between a nightclub and an art installation, in which half the atmospheres have been brought in from the Congo and the other half from London. By fusing these two nocturnal cultures, Höller is, we are told, hoping to teach each of us about the other. And, of course, he is once again fully testing the boundaries of art to see how much further they will stretch.
The Double Club is a tricky place to locate geographically as well. Even standing directly outside the only possible doors on the street that might lead into it, it was difficult to accept that beyond this bleak Islington exterior lay an ambitious attempt to graft convincing slabs of Kinshasa nightlife onto London’s endemic party scene. But then, as I remember it, being transported from one kind of reality to another is exactly what clubbing is all about. Since art has such similar concerns, perhaps it is no big wonder that someone should come along seeking so energetically to confuse the two.