The single-day art exhibition hosted in a strip club by OTTN Projects
Words Gianmarco Gronchi
Anyone who entered the Luxy Club in Milan yesterday – Thursday the 10th – was surprised to discover that there was something else, something different over the sexy pole dancers. A single-night contemporary art exhibition – from 10.30 pm to 5 am – was hosted inside. The project, named Look at Me, has been developed by OTTN Projects, which describes itself as “a non profit organization run by a female only team, which aims to facilitate the encounter between different realms of our society through the creation of new exhibition formats, cultural events, conferences or editorial projects, in the attempt of engaging with contemporary culture on a broad spectrum”. More specifically, Look at Me was curated by Sara van Bussel, with the art direction of Manuela Nobile and the support of Marcelo Burlon Foundation.
If you’re thinking that this temporary exhibition is just yet another stunt to shock, please, think twice. It’s clear that the idea of art-outside-the-museum is not a new one – just look at what Fiorucci did in the 1980s or at co_atto project. But Look at Me has been a conceptual meditation about eroticism and how it is perceived by modern society. The exhibition worked to fill the gap between two worlds, bringing contemporary art to those who would probably never came to a vernissage.
Despite sexy club spaces aren’t as large as those of an art gallery, it has been impressive to see the variety of mediums used for the artworks. The three artists involved – Flaminia Veronesi, Giulia Crispiani and Michele Rizzo – have been able to cooperate in order to discover a subtle path that intersects the poetics of art with the unabashed eroticism of a sexy club. Giulia Crispiani has presented Saliva, a neon installation, and Gustosa (Tasty), a video and sound site-specific artworks displayed both at the entrance and on a private room. Flaminia Veronesi had created two tapestries entitled Sirena (Mermaid) and a serie of painted canvas with dreamy and uninhibited figures, but she also staged a performance, with a non-stop session of live drawing. Michele Rizzo decided to bring on stage (literally!) a performance too, with choreography that could metaphorize the essence of the place.
Curator Sara van Bussel states that “taking into account some of the elements that are pivotal to the discourse around a strip club, the project however aims to emancipate itself from the dialectic that centers around the exploitation of the body, the political battle of sex work or the attribution of meaning usually associated with places of sexual entertainment: Look at Me represents the simple attempt of acceptance of pleasure, of work as a possibility and as an aesthetic expression”. Nontheless, the exhibition was not just a enchanted celebration of pleasure, but a calculated liturgy between aesthetics and prejudice, between high and low culture. Artworks have created happy spaces for dialogue that can break the barriers of repetitiveness and introduce disorienting points of view. Apart from the qualities of the artworks on display, Look at Me should bring a reflection about the temporality of an art exhibition. What we should call a flash pop-up exhibition brings a reflection about the difficulty of writing, of reviewing, of speaking about it. The urgency of being there, to live it, to physically experience it emerges. And this urgency is amplified by the ban on taking photos inside the strip club, to protect the privacy of female dancers.
Questioned about the effect a contemporary art exhibition might have on ordinary strip club goers, the curator van Bussel replied that “we don’t know too what effect it will have on the public”. “It’s really interesting to look at different reactions and how those two worlds interacts” she adds. And, if I may be allowed a personal note, I myself realized the prejudices I unknowingly had regarding strip clubs and adult workers. The awkwardness of mingling with the Luxy Club’s regular clientele and being approached by the club’s dancers is symptomatic of the need to rethink the ways we live and consume our sexuality. Perhaps the greatest success of Look at Me is that it has suggested, through art, new ways of thinking, a stunning and groundbreaking approach to the perception of eros, bodies, identities. The greatest we could expect.